President Biden Nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court

President Joe Biden has selected Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court, setting in motion a historic confirmation process for the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the nation.

Prior to taking office, President Joe Biden pledged to reshape the federal judiciary. In a December 2020 letter, during his presidential transition, he asked Democratic senators to recommend public defenders and civil rights lawyers, who have generally been underrepresented on the federal bench, for judgeships. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, will fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.

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A native Washingtonian, Jackson moved to Florida as a young child with her parents, graduates of historically Black colleges and universities who worked as public schoolteachers. Her father then went to law school, eventually becoming the chief attorney for the Miami-Dade County School Board. Her mother became an administrator and served as the principal at a public magnet school for 14 years.

Jackson attended Miami Palmetto High School, a public school whose other notable alumni include, according to the Miami Herald, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Vivek Murthy, the current U.S. surgeon general. While there, she was a stand-out debater and served as student body president.

She went on to Harvard College, from which she graduated magna cum laude in 1992, and Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude in 1996. She spent the year between college and law school as a reporter and researcher at Time magazine in New York.

In the 17 years following her graduation from law school, Jackson held a variety of legal jobs. She attained three federal clerkships, worked at four elite law firms, and served two stints with the Sentencing Commission. While much of that experience is typical for a Supreme Court short-lister, one line on Jackson’s resume is not: her mid-career decision to spend two years as a public defender. In fact, the last justice with significant experience representing criminal defendants was Justice Thurgood Marshall, who retired in 1991.  

From 1996 to 1997, Jackson served as a clerk to U.S District Judge Patti Saris, a Massachusetts judge appointed by President Bill Clinton. She followed that clerkship with a second one, for Judge Bruce Selya, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit by President Ronald Reagan, from 1997 to 1998.

Jackson then snagged a highly sought-after spot as an associate at Miller Cassidy Larroca & Lewin, a Washington litigation boutique that later merged with Baker Botts, a Texas-based firm. Other prominent alumni of the firm include Seth Waxman, who served as the solicitor general in the Clinton administration, former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick, and Barrett, who arrived at the firm, fresh off a clerkship with Justice Antonin Scalia, shortly after Jackson left.

Jackson is married to surgeon Patrick Jackson.  The couple met while both were students at Harvard. The couple has two daughters.

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