Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the nation’s 116th justice, becoming the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She replaced Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who retired.
Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson?
Brown, Ketanji Jackson, a former federal judge and public defender who was born Ketanji Onyika Brown in 1970, has been nominated by President Joe Biden to join the Supreme Court as an associate justice. She was the first Black woman to be nominated for a position on the Supreme Court and then be confirmed. Jackson, who was born and raised in Miami, stated in her high school yearbook that she hoped to one day be appointed to the bench. She graduated from Harvard for both her undergraduate and law degrees, and she is married to another Harvard alum.
Childhood and Education of Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Onyika Brown, the first of Johnny and Ellery Brown’s two children, was born when both of them were working as public school teachers. Her father then obtained a law degree from the University of Miami and started working as an attorney for the Miami-Dade County school board after the family relocated from Washington, D.C. to Miami, Florida. Her mother rose to the position of principal.
Brown was raised in Miami and went to neighborhood public schools there. She excelled in speech and debate events when a student at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, where she also held the position of class president. She entered at Harvard University in 1988, when she met Patrick Jackson, another student there, whom she later married.
She received a bachelor’s in government from Harvard in 1992, graduating with honors. In her senior year, she researched the subject of compulsion in plea bargaining for her honors thesis.
Law School of Ketanji Brown Jackson
She entered Harvard Law School after spending a year working there as a journalist and researcher, and she earned her juris doctor (J.D.) there in 1996. She worked as the Harvard Law Review’s supervising editor when she was there.
Marriage and Family of Ketanji Brown Jackson
In 1996, Jackson wed Patrick Graves Jackson. While they were both undergraduates at Harvard, the two fell in love. Although they came from opposite backgrounds—Patrick was a white man whose family had a long history of Harvard graduates while Jackson was a Black woman whose guidance counselor had advised her against applying—they fell in love.
Daughters of Ketanji Brown Jackson
Talia and Leila are the daughters of Jackson and her surgeon spouse. In 2016, Leila recommended her mother for the Supreme Court position left open by Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing in a letter to President Obama.
Jackson’s marriage to Patrick brought her into contact with Republican congressman Paul Ryan because Patrick’s twin brother is married to Ryan’s wife’s sister. When Jackson was proposed for the U.S. District Court, Ryan made her Senate debut. While he and Jackson may have different political views, he has praised Jackson without reservation for her intelligence, character, and honesty.
Family History of Ketanji Brown Jackson
Jackson has had an interest in law since she watched her father quit his job as a history teacher to attend law school. Jackson, age three, colored next to her father as he read law books.
Jackson’s father earned a law degree and later served as the Miami-Dade school district’s top lawyer. Before becoming the principal of a public high school with a magnet program, her mother was also a teacher.
Before becoming a lawyer, Jackson’s younger brother worked as a police officer and in the military. In the 1990s, an uncle served as Miami’s police chief.
Jackson has a second uncle who turned to drug-related criminal activity. He was given a life sentence in 1989 as a result of a three-strikes law. In November 2016, the judge commuted his sentence. Jackson did not participate in the commutation of her uncle’s sentence; however, she did send him to a law firm that specializes in clemency requests.
Law Career of Ketanji Brown Jackson
Jackson spent the majority of her legal career working for the government, despite having worked for various private law firms. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1996, she worked as a law clerk for two federal courts. During the 1999–2000 term, she served as Justice Breyer’s Supreme Court clerk.
In 2003, Jackson accepted a position with the bicameral U.S. Sentencing Commission, beginning the first of her two terms on the body. She served as an associate federal public defender in Washington, D.C., from 2005 to 2007. She handled cases for several Guantanamo Bay captives as well as poor individuals.
Before being chosen to serve as vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2010, Jackson went back to private practice. At a period when federal prisons were overcrowded, she was regarded as a consensus builder in developing federal sentencing policy. The commission unanimously decided to reduce federal drug sentences and implemented this relief backwards.
Professional career of Ketanji Brown Jackson
- 2022-present: Justice, United States Supreme Court
- 2021-2022: Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
- 2013-2021: Judge, United States District Court for the District of Columbia
- 2010-2014: Vice chair/Commissioner, United States Sentencing Commission
- 2007-2010: Of counsel (Private practice), Morrison & Foerster LLP, Washington, D.C.
- 2005-2007: Assistant federal public defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender
- 2003-2005: Assistant special counsel, United States Sentencing Commission
- 2002-2003: Associate, The Feinberg Group, LLP
- 2000-2002: Associate, Goodwin Procter LLP, Boston, Mass.
- 1999-2000: Law clerk, Hon. Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court of the United States
- 1998-1999: Associate, Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin LLP, Washington, D.C.
- 1997-1998: Law clerk, Hon. Bruce Marshall Selya, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit
- 1996-1997: Law clerk, Hon. Patti Saris, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Awards of Ketanji Brown Jackson
- 2021: Constance Baker Motley Award, Empowering Women of Color, Columbia Law School
- 2020: Distinguished Visiting Jurist, Third Annual Judge James B. Parsons Legacy Award, Black Law Students Association, University of Chicago Law School
- 2019:Stars of the Bar Award, Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia
David T. Lewis Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence, The University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law
- 2014-2015: Edward H. Levi Distinguished Visiting Jurist, The University of Chicago Law School
Associations of Ketanji Brown Jackson
- American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section, Sentencing Task Force
- American Law Institute, Council
- Edward Bennett Williams Inn of Court
- Harvard Alumni Association
- Harvard Black Alumni Society
- Harvard Club of Washington, D.C. (2002-2016)
- Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services
- Montrose Christian School Advisory School Board member (2010-2011)
- Supreme Court Fellows Commission
- Supreme Court Institute, Georgetown University, Moot Court Jurist (2003 -2009)
- Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia, Amicus Committee co-chair (2006)
Nomination to the Supreme Court of Ketanji Brown Jackson
Jackson was proposed by President Barack Obama in 2012 to join the Washington, D.C., U.S. District Court. In March 2013, the Senate approved her by voice vote.
Jackson’s major decisions on this court include a 2019 decision that the former White House counsel for President Donald Trump could not invoke executive privilege to evade a congressional subpoena. “Presidents are not kings,” she wrote in her ruling.
Jackson received a nomination from President Joe Biden on April 19, 2021, to join the U.S. Court of Appeals. A senator questioned Jackson about if she was concerned that her work as a public defender had allowed criminals to return to the streets during her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate. Jackson retorted that her labor had been essential to the administration of justice.
President Biden stated on February 25, 2022, that he was nominating Jackson to take Justice Stephen Breyer’s place on the Supreme Court. On April 7, 2022, the U.S. Senate decided to confirm her.
Jackson was approved in 7 April 2022 by a vote of 53-47, garnering the support of three Republicans and 50 Democratic senators.
Jackson is the first Black woman to hold a position on the Supreme Court, the first federal public defender to hold office there, and the first justice to represent criminal defendants since Thurgood Marshall.
Most Inspiring Quotes by Ketanji Brown Jackson
- “In our family, we have a mantra that emphasises the prioritisation of work over play as one of our first principles.”
- “I teach my children to approach the world with a grateful Spirit. We don’t look down on or talk down to others and we show respect for all mankind.”
- “ There are also women I have never met but who are recorded in the pages of history and whose lives and struggles inspire me and thousands of other working women to keep putting one foot in front of another every day.”
- “I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunities that I’ve had in life. I believe it’s my obligation to teach my children to refrain from casting expulsions on others because of their life circumstances”.
- “Be open to new ideas and experiences because you’ll never know when someone else will have an interesting thought or when a new door will open to take you on the journey of your dreams.”
- “The privilege of working with strong women role models has been essential to my career development and it’s crucial to the development and advancement of girls like my daughters who need to learn that they have opportunities.”