Biden to nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson to be first Black woman to sit on Supreme Court
Published by CNN and written by Jake Tapper and Ariane de Vogue
President Joe Biden has selected Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court, according to a source who has been notified about the decision, setting in motion a historic confirmation process for the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the nation.
Jackson, 51, currently sits on DC's federal appellate court and had been considered the front-runner for the vacancy since Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement.
She received and accepted Biden's offer in a call Thursday night, a source familiar with the decision told CNN.
Jackson clerked for Breyer and served as a federal public defender in Washington -- an experience that her backers say is fitting, given Biden's commitment to putting more public defenders on the federal bench. She was also a commissioner on the US Sentencing Commission and served on the federal district court in DC, as an appointee of President Barack Obama, before Biden elevated her to the DC Circuit last year.
Biden's pick is a chance for him to fire up a Democratic base that is less excited to vote in this year's midterm elections than it has been over the past several election cycles. It's also a welcome change of topic for the President, whose approval ratings have been sagging in recent months as the Covid-19 pandemic has dragged on and inflation has affected consumers across the nation. The selection gives Biden a chance to deliver on one of his top campaign promises, and he'll hope that the Black voters who were crucial to his election win will see this as a return on their investment.
Though it is historic, the choice of Jackson will not change the ideological makeup of the court. The court currently has six conservative justices and three liberal justices -- and the retiring Breyer comes from the liberal camp. The court is already poised to continue its turn toward the right with high-profile cases and rulings expected from the court in the coming months on abortion, gun control and religious liberty issues.
Eyes will now turn to the Senate, where Biden's Democratic Party holds the thinnest possible majority. The President will hope that Jackson can garner bipartisan support, but Democrats will need all their members in Washington to ensure her confirmation. Unlike for most major pieces of legislation, Democrats do not need Republican help to confirm a Supreme Court justice and can do it with their 50 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a deadlock. When Jackson was confirmed to the appellate bench, she had the support of three Republican senators.
As a judge in DC -- where some of the most politically charged cases are filed -- Jackson's issued notable rulings touching on Congress' ability to investigate the White House. As a district court judge, she wrote a 2019 opinion siding with House lawmakers who sought the testimony of then-White House Counsel Don McGahn. Last year, she was on the unanimous circuit panel that ordered disclosure of certain Trump White House documents to the House January 6 committee.
Following Breyer's retirement announcement in late January, Biden began reviewing background materials, such as legal records and writings, about his potential picks, which included Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and South Carolina US District Judge J. Michelle Childs.
Biden first committed to nominating a Black female US Supreme Court justice when he was running for president in 2020. On a debate stage in South Carolina, Biden argued that his push to make "sure there's a Black woman on the Supreme Court" was rooted in an effort to "get everyone represented."
Coming from 'a background of public service'
Jackson was born in the nation's capital but grew up in the Miami area. She was a member of the debate team at Miami Palmetto Senior High School before earning both her undergraduate degree and law degree at Harvard.
At her 2021 confirmation hearing for the appellate court, she connected her family's professions -- her parents worked in public schools -- to her decision to work as a public defender.
"I come from a background of public service. My parents were in public service, my brother was a police officer and (was) in the military," she said at the time, "and being in the public defenders' office felt very much like the opportunity to help with my skills and talents."
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, is a relative by marriage and introduced her at the 2013 hearing for her district court nomination.
Conservatives have already previewed how they will scrutinize her record defending Guantanamo Bay detainees as a public defender. The role she played in her uncle's successful efforts to seek a commutation from former President Barack Obama has also attracted attention. When she was in private practice in 2008, she referred her uncle's file to the firm Wilmer Hale, which several years later submitted the file.
As a judge, some other notable cases she has in her record are a 2018 case brought federal employee unions where she blocked parts of executive orders issued by former President Donald Trump, and a case where she ruled against Trump policies that expand the categories of non-citizens who could be subject to expedited removal procedures without being able to appear before a judge.
Jackson penned more than 500 opinions in the eight years she spent on the district court.
Potential bipartisan support
Though Biden has said that he'd pick a nominee with bipartisan appeal who is "worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy of excellence and decency," his decision to name the first Black woman to the court is already facing Republican opposition. Several Senate Republicans have told CNN they disagreed with the President's decision to name a Black woman to the court rather than judging a nominee squarely on their credentials, even though Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump both said they'd name a female justice to the Supreme Court when they were on the campaign trail.
Before Biden even picked a nominee, GOP senators and Senate candidates were already concluding that she'd be far left, throwing cold water on the names floated as being on Biden's potential short list and calling for a slow confirmation process. Still, Republicans are limited in their ability to block a Supreme Court nominee, and Jackson may win the support of some GOP senators.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine all voted for Jackson last summer when she was confirmed as a circuit court judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the second most important court in the country.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that he wants to push a nominee through the process quickly, using Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's Senate proceedings as a model for Jackson's confirmation timeline.