Ketanji Brown Jackson: The First Black Woman on the Supreme Court


Darin Martin, Editor

On April 7, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the 116th justice of the United States Supreme Court. This landmark decision makes her the first Black woman to serve on the supreme court and the first justice to have been a federal public defender.

Jackson, who attended Harvard’s law school, began her legal career with three clerkships, including one with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. She then worked in a private legal practice with Boston-based law firm Goodwin Procter from 2000 to 2002. Jackson then moved on to work as an assistant counsel special to the United States sentencing commission from 2003 to 2005, before serving as an assistant public federal defender in Washington D.C., where she handled cases for the court of appeal in D.C. A report from the Washington Post stated that “she won uncommon victories against the government that shortened or erased lengthy prison terms.”

On July 23, 2009, Barack Obama nominated Jackson for the vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission. She was confirmed by unanimous consent on February 11, 2010, and she served until 2014. In 2016, Obama Administration officials identified Jackson as a potential nominee for the position in the U.S. Supreme Court and she was one of the five candidates interviewed for the position. Ultimately, Merrick Garland was President Obama’s nominee.

In early 2022, many news outlets speculated that Joe Biden would nominate Jackson for the Supreme Court in order to fulfill one of his campaign promises to appoint a black woman should a vacancy occur. Jackson’s appointment to the D.C. Circuit, the second most influential court behind the Supreme Court, was considered to be preparation for her eventual appointment.

In February 2022, it was announced that Biden had nominated Jackson to fill the seat left vacated by Stephen Breyer. Her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee opened on March 21 and ended in an 11-11 vote. Her nomination was advanced on April 4 by a 53-47 procedural vote in the senate and she was subsequently confirmed by the same margin on April 7. She will be sworn in to office when current Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement comes into effect this summer.