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Promise made, promise kept: Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court
Jackson would be the first Black woman to serve on the court.
President Joe Biden on Friday nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
“Today, as we watch freedom and liberty under attack abroad, I’m here to fulfill my responsibilities under the Constitution to preserve freedom and liberty here in the United States of America,” Biden said as he announced Jackson as his nominee.
“I am standing here today by the grace of God as a testament to the love and support I’ve received from my family,” Jackson said.
Jackson was joined by her husband Dr. Patrick Jackson and daughter Leila Jackson. Her oldest daughter is currently in college.
The Senate will now work to confirm Jackson by April 8 before it leaves for a two-week recess. The White House and Senate Democrats have signaled that they would make the nominee available to Senate Republicans who are interested in good-faith discussions to inform their vote. But the White House also said it would defend Jackson against personal attacks.
“The historic nomination of Judge Jackson is an important step toward ensuring the Supreme Court reflects the nation as a whole. As the first Black woman Supreme Court Justice in the Court’s 232-year-history, she will inspire countless future generations of young Americans,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement on Friday. “Senate Democrats spent the past year working with President Biden to shape a federal judicial system that fully represents America and we will continue that trend by confirming Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court.”
Schumer said at the same time that he wanted the nominee confirmed in a month. “We want to move quickly, we want to get this done as soon as possible,” he said in January.
“We will being immediately to move forward on her nomination with the careful, fair and professional approach she and America are entitled to,” Democratic Sen. and chair of the Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin said on Friday in a statement. Durbin said last month that the process would be deliberate but the committee would not get bogged down.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called Jackson “the favored choice of far-left dark-money groups that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure of the court itself. He mentioned that Jackson has only published two opinions, both within the past two weeks, since he voted against her last summer. “With that said, I look forward to carefully reviewing Judge Jackson’s nomination during the vigorous and thorough Senate process that the American people deserve.”
Jackson currently sits on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a position she was confirmed to in a 53-44 vote last June after Merrick Garland became Attorney General. Jackson would replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his intention to retire after almost three decades once his successor has been confirmed. (Jackson was also a former law clerk for Justice Breyer.)
“Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat, but please know I could never fill your shoes,” Jackson said during her remarks.
Jackson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, then attended Harvard Law School, where she graduated cum laude and was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. In an anecdote too many Black women can relate to, Jackson’s guidance counselor warned her not to set her sights “so high” when she told the counselor she wanted to attend Harvard.
“That didn’t stop Judge Jackson,” the White House notes in its statement announcing the nomination.
“Judge Jackson has already inspired young Black women like my daughters to set their sights higher, and her confirmation will help them believe they can be anything they want to be,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Like Justice Breyer, Judge Jackson understands that the law isn’t just about abstract theory. It’s about people’s lives.” Obama nominated Jackson twice — first as a district judge and then to the US Sentencing Commission — where was confirmed with Democratic and Republican support both times.
Though a trio of three candidates was immediately identified as candidates, Jackson was seen by many as the frontrunner. She has a background as a public defender, blocked several actions from former President Donald Trump’s administration and is seen as a labor-friendly jurist — all bona fides that should make Jackson well received by the progressive flank of the Democratic Party. (Jackson would be the first federal public defender to serve on the court.)
California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and J. Michelle Childs, a federal district court judge in South Carolina (and favorite of Clyburn and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina, were also formally vetted for the nomination. (Graham, along with Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted to confirm Jackson to the DC Court of Appeals. But appeared to bristle at her nomination to the Supreme Court in these tweets.)
And while Jackson’s confirmation would be historic, it would do little to restore balance to a Supreme Court with a current 6-3 conservative supermajority that is expected to make several rulings this summer that could erode the fundamental rights of communities that have already been historically left behind.
Still, the nomination is a win for the president and forward-looking Americans too. It’s an especially sweet victory for Black women, who contribute so much to the country but still too often find themselves overlooked and underrepresented in most institutional corridors of power. (And Jackson’s confirmation would inject some much-needed youth into the institution, making her the second-youngest justice at age 51 after Amy Coney Barrett (50)).
The nomination fulfills a promise President Biden made on the campaign trail exactly two years ago during a 2020 primary debate in South Carolina, a state that turned Biden’s presidential fortunes around after a powerful endorsement from longtime Rep. Jim Clyburn, who serves as the number-three House Democrat.
“I’m looking for someone to replace Judge Breyer with the same kind of capacity [he] had, with an open mind, who understands the Constitution, interprets it in a way that is consistent with the mainstream interpretation of the Constitution,” Biden said earlier this month in a pre-Super Bowl interview with Lester Holt of NBC News.
The White House provided few public details about the nomination process save for a few readouts of meetings with some of the senators who will participate in the upcoming confirmation hearings. And administration officials did a remarkable job of keeping the selection under wraps until today.
At Justice Breyer’s retirement announcement in January, President Biden said the nomination of Black woman to sit on the nation’s highest court was long overdue.
“I made that commitment during the campaign [to nominate a Black woman],” Biden said. “And I will keep that commitment.”
The White House team that advised the president on the nomination included several of his closest advisors: Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Director of Public Engagement Cedric Richmond, White House Counsel Dana Remus, Legislative Affairs Director Louisa Terrell and Paige Herwig, a lawyer in the White House counsel's office who focuses on judicial nominations.
Vice President Kamala Harris was also be deeply involved with the process as well.
“Without any question, she will be the first, but not the last,” Harris said on Wednesday of the then-unnamed nominee.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month that the administration would likely bring in additional expertise from the outside to advise during the confirmation process.
“I would expect we would have that team in place prior to a selection,” she said.
Former Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama has already been named as the Jackson’s “sherpa,” responsible for supporting her as she navigates the confirmation process with few to no discernible challenges.
When Biden reiterated his commitment to name a Black woman, several prominent Republicans, including Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire called the nomination an affirmative action “quota” pick.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said last month that she would welcome the appointment of a Black woman to the court. But she called Biden announcing his intention to fulfill a campaign promise “clumsy at best,” which “adds to the further perception that the court is a political institution like Congress when it is not supposed to be.”
But Democrats pushed back, pointing to former Republican President Ronald Reagan who said he would nominate the first woman to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor) and Donald Trump‘s announcement in 2020 that he would nominate a woman (Barrett) to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as evidence that Biden’s pledge was not the first.
Collins said the difference between Reagan and Biden is that the former said he would like to appoint a woman while the latter made a pledge as a candidate.
But Senate Democrats can confirm Jackson without Republican support if they remain united, rendering moot much of this partisan criticism.
“Elections have consequences,” Graham said in a statement when Jackson’s mentor, Justice Breyer, retired last month. “And that is most evident when it comes to fulfilling vacancies on the Supreme Court.”
This post has been updated throughout with additional details and quotes from the event announcing Jackson’s nomination.