This week, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic confirmation hearings are going place. If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman and former public defender to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.
When President Joe Biden announced her candidacy last month, he added, “For far too long, our government, our courts haven’t looked like America.” “I believe it is past time for us to have a court that reflects the whole range of our nation’s abilities and greatness, with a nominee of exceptional qualities, and that we inspire all young people to hope that they can one day serve their country at the highest level.”
Jackson was on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court shortlist in 2016 and was a “hot contender” for Biden’s nomination, according to NPR’s June 2021 assessment. On the campaign road, he mentioned appointing a Black woman to the court, which has traditionally been dominated by white men. (In the 233-year history of the Supreme Court, 115 of the 120 justices have been men and 117 have been white.) Jackson has already been confirmed to the US Sentencing Commission, the US District Court for the District of Columbia, and the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by a bipartisan majority in the Senate.
On Monday, Jackson made an opening statement, then on Tuesday, he received questions from senators for nearly 13 hours. The hearings will finish Thursday with testimony from the American Bar Association (ABA) and outside witnesses. Wednesday’s session is expected to be shorter. Here’s all we know thus far about her.
Her Professional Life
Because of her track record, the American Bar Association unanimously rated Jackson “well qualified” to serve on the Court, its highest rating. Jackson served as a federal district court judge for eight years before joining the appellate court (a usual road to the Supreme Court). She has worked in private law companies as well as as a public defender and is a Harvard double major. (She earned her bachelor’s and law degrees there.) She worked as a clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she will succeed if approved.
Between 2010 and 2014, Jackson served as vice-chair of the United States Sentencing Commission, reducing thousands of crack-cocaine-related penalties and reducing sentences for a variety of other federal drug offenses. Jackson has also been involved in a number of high-profile Trump-era cases: in the first impeachment hearings, she ruled that former White House counsel had to comply with Congress’s subpoena, and she sat on the panel that granted the House access to Trump-administration records in the investigation of the Capitol insurgency.
Her Approach to the Law
When asked about her judicial philosophy, Jackson claimed she didn’t have one and instead detailed her methods. She stated that she bases her decisions on the facts of the case, how the law applies to them, and the limits of her judicial authority.
“I am emptying my mind of any previous thoughts about how the case might turn out and setting aside any personal views,” she added, adding that she will stay neutral. Though she did not declare herself an originalist, she did indicate to sharing that viewpoint to some extent: “I do not believe that the Constitution is a living Constitution, in the sense that it is changing and infused with my own policy position or the policy perspective of the day,” she stated.
Her Point of View on Abortion
Jackson was asked if she agreed with Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who claimed Roe v. Wade “is decided as a precedent” and promised to “follow all the rules of stare decisis” during their confirmation hearings, respectively. “The Supreme Court’s settled law addressing the right to terminate a woman’s pregnancy is Roe and Casey,” Jackson agreed. “They’ve built a framework that the Supreme Court has confirmed, and in order to reconsider, as Justice Barrett explained, the Supreme Court considers a variety of circumstances because stare decisis is such an important principle.”
Senator John F. Kennedy asked her, “In your judgment, when does life begin?” Jackson stated that, despite her religious beliefs on the subject, she “puts them aside while deciding cases.”
Her Record of Incarceration
Republicans have attacked Jackson’s record on child pornography cases, accusing her of being too indulgent with pedophiles. She called the cases “heinous” and “egregious,” and stated that she had just followed Congress’s directives. “For every defendant that appears in front of me and implies, as they frequently do, that they’re merely a looker,” she remarked. “I tell them about the adults who are former child sex-abuse victims who tell me that as a result of the trauma, they will never have a normal adult relationship.” “I went into prostitution and fell into drugs because I was attempting to suppress the harm that was done to me as a child,” I tell them.
Jackson has “done what 80% of judges” have done in these cases, according to Chairman Dick Durbin, and is “in the mainstream of sentence.”
The present restrictions, Jackson says, have resulted in “severe inequities” in the system. In a 2012 study, the Sentencing Commission stated that they “fail to differentiate among offenders in terms of their guilt,” resulting in punishment ranges that are “too severe for some offenders and too lenient for others.”
“It’s up to Congress to decide what this country does in terms of punishment,” she said. “It’s up to you to decide what the punishment will be. You choose the elements that judges consider while deciding on a punishment.”
Her Private Life
Talia and Leila Jackson are Jackson’s two daughters from her 25-year marriage to Dr. Patrick Jackson. Her parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown worked as public school teachers in Washington, D.C., where she was born. Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge, shares her birthday.
Jackson’s family relocated to Miami, Florida, where he grew up. One of the reasons she became interested in law was seeing her father attend law school later in life. Kedah, her younger brother, was an army soldier and worked as an undercover officer for the Baltimore City Police Department.
“Unlike the many restrictions that they had to encounter growing up, my path was clearer,” Jackson said in her opening statement, “so that if I worked hard and believed in myself, in America I could achieve anything or be anyone I wanted to be.”
As Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson laid out punishments Wednesday during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings for those sentenced in cases involving images of child sexual abuse, Senator Lindsey Graham interrupted her. https://t.co/AqWtLEaYlp pic.twitter.com/2SKnkhlE3L
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 23, 2022