Meet Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden's First Supreme Court Pick — and Possibly First Black Woman Justice

Jackson's career ranges from clerking for retiring Justice Stephen Breyer to serving as an appellate judge and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission as well as a federal public defender

Ketanji Brown Jackson
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Shutterstock

On Friday morning, the White House ended weeks — if not months — of speculation about who Joe Biden's first Supreme Court pick would be with confirmation that he is choosing 51-year-old Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The president had promised since before being elected in 2020 that, if able, he would nominate the first Black woman to the high court. He reiterated that in January, when Justice Stephen Breyer said he would be retiring.

"The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character experience and integrity," Biden, 79, said then. "And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It's long overdue in my view. I made that commitment during my campaign for president, and I will keep that commitment."

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Explaining the choice of Jackson, currently serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a White House official said on Friday that she was seen as "one of our nation's brightest legal minds." The official noted her career ranges from clerking for retiring Justice Breyer himself to serving as an appellate judge and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission as well as a federal public defender.

Biden has made a point with his judicial nominees to draw from those with criminal defense experience.

The White House official also highlighted Jackson's history of bipartisan support before the Senate, including being confirmed to the D.C. Circuit. That vote was 53-to-44, with yeses from Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

"I've experienced life in perhaps a different way than some of my colleagues because of who I am, and that might be valuable," Jackson said in her Senate hearing last year, discussing her background, per CNN. "I hope it would be valuable if I was confirmed to the circuit court."

Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Shutterstock

At Jackson's 2021 hearing — in what is likely to repeat when she goes before the Senate this year — some Republican lawmakers pressed her on being so closely tied, they felt, to the value of diversity.

"What role does race play, Judge Jackson, in the kind of judge you have been and the kind of judge you will be?" Texas' John Cornyn asked her.

"I'm looking at the arguments, the facts and the law," Jackson responded. "I'm methodically and intentionally setting aside personal views, any other inappropriate considerations and I would think that race would be the kind of thing that would be inappropriate to inject in my evaluation of a case."

Still, she noted, a diversity of influences — of life experience — "would bring value."

At that 2021 hearing, as in others, Jackson was supported by her surgeon husband, Patrick, according to CNN. They have two children: Leila and Talia.

Perhaps mindful of the slim Democratic majority in the Senate ahead of November's midterms, the White House official on Friday urged a "fair and timely confirmation and hearing" for Jackson.

She was born in Washington, D.C., but raised in Miami by school-teacher parents. She graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and earned a cum laude distinction. She clerked for outgoing Justice Breyer for a term that began in 1999.

Breyer has called her "brilliant" and praised her "common sense" and "thoughtfulness," according to SCOTUS Blog.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson. Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty

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Jackson and her future husband met at Harvard, according to The New York Times. (While there, Jackson sampled her share of student life, too, including being in an improv group and taking a drama class where she shared a scene with ... Matt Damon.)

She married Patrick, who was her "serious boyfriend," in 1996, the same year she graduated with her law degree, according to the Times.

Jackson has said her time as a public defender informed her work as a trial judge because of how little her clients knew about the legal process.

"I remember thinking very clearly that I felt like I didn't have enough of an idea of what really happened in criminal cases, I wanted to understand the system," she once said.

On the District Court in D.C., Jackson recently joined an opinion that upheld the decision of a lower court ordering records from the Trump White House to be handed over to the House of Representatives committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The Supreme Court later turned down the former president's request to overturn that ruling.

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