After Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death in 2016 left a seat vacant in the U.S. Supreme Court, the 11-year-old daughter of federal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson drafted a letter to then-President Barack Obama recommending her mother as a replacement.
That attempt was unsuccessful, but six years later Jackson is one of the forerunners to become the newest judge on America’s highest court, after the retirement of Stephen Breyer later this year.
If nominated and confirmed, Jackson, a District Court of Appeals judge in the District of Columbia, will be the first black woman to sit on the most powerful bench in the country, after President Joe Biden promised to make such an appointment.
“The person I will nominate will be someone with exceptional qualifications, character, experience and integrity, and that person will be the first black woman ever to be nominated to the United States Supreme Court,” Biden said Thursday, adding that he was from plan was to select her by the end of February.
Other names have been raised as contenders, including Leondra Kruger, a judge in the California Supreme Court, and Michelle Childs, a district court judge in South Carolina.
But Jackson – who was confirmed by the Senate to the DC Court of Appeal just last year with a 53-44 two-party vote – is considered the favorite while the White House broken effort to install his chosen nominee only months before the midterm elections in November.
Experts have warned that if Biden leaves the nomination too late, the confirmation process in the run-up to the ballot box could become embroiled in political controversy. Supreme Court justices are elected by presidents, but must be confirmed by a simple majority in the Senate – where Democrats have a slim-thin majority – after public hearings.
“In this polarizing political world we live in, [a recent Senate confirmation is] a big plus for her, ”says Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer who worked with Jackson in the early 2000s. “She is a well-known quantity. . . She has been confirmed by the very Senate that will reopen a file that is not so dusty. “
Laurence Tribe, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, Jackson’s alma mater, said: “It will be challenging, to say the least, for the Republican senators who voted for her. . . to explain why they are suddenly not in favor of her elevation to the Supreme Court. ”
Jackson’s interest in the law dates back to his early childhood. In a 2017 address at the University of Georgia, she recalled doing her preschool homework across the table from her father, a lawyer, who was surrounded by piles of law books.
Her rise in the legal profession was widely regarded as formidable. “The breadth of her legal career is impressive,” said Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, during Jackson’s nomination hearing for the DC Court of Appeals.
He added that Jackson’s former role as a federal public defender “would bring that perspective and experience that is too often lacking on the bench”.
Jackson’s career spanned roles in private practice as well as a position at the Supreme Court as a former Breyer clerk. In 2009, Obama tapped her to join the U.S. sentencing commission, the judicial agency that develops federal sentencing policies.
The nomination and confirmation process for the latter role was so “nerve-wracking. . . I actually taught myself to expand as a way to channel my nervous energy during that time, ”Jackson said in 2017.
In 2012, Obama nominated her again, this time to be a district judge. But while the Democratic president wanted re-election, the chances of her “dream job … hinge[d] about circumstances beyond my control, ”Jackson said, recalling that she“ started [knitting] so many scarves that I could have equipped a small army ”before she was finally appointed.
During Jackson’s confirmation hearing in 2013, Paul Ryan, the former Republican House Speaker and brother-in-law of her husband’s identical twins, served as a character witness. “Now we can differ politically, but my praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, for her integrity, it’s unequivocal,” Ryan said.
Jackson made her mark in the role in 2019 when she ordered former White House attorney Donald McGahn to testify before the House of Representatives in Donald Trump’s investigation into prosecution.
“This result is inevitable as a matter of basic constitutional law,” she wrote in her opinion. “Simply put, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that presidents are not kings.”
Her nomination last year to the DC Circle, one of the most prominent American appellate courts, made her a leading candidate to become the first black woman to join the Supreme Court as a vacancy arose during Biden’s presidency. .
Feinberg said her ability, intelligence and collegiality – qualities critical to “building bridges with the other judges” – were among those that would make her the right choice for Breyer’s seat.
Jackson, who was born in Washington and raised in Miami, Florida, has shown promise from her teens when she became president of her high school student body and joined a competitive speech and debate team.
Under the mentorship of her debate coach, she “gained the confidence that can sometimes be quite difficult for women and minorities to develop at an early age,” Jackson said in her 2017 speech.
She has publicly raised issues of under-representation of women and minority groups in large law firms as well as the lack of high-ranking women to act as mentors for younger co-workers.
As a black woman who said she was “fairly certain” that her ancestors were descended from slaves, Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court would make history.
In 2017, she recalled the importance of the female role models that came before her, “whose lives and struggles inspire me and thousands of other working women to keep putting one foot in front of the other every day”.
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