Ketanji Brown Jackson, a U.S. federal judge, was affirmed as a Supreme Court justice on Thursday, becoming the first Black woman to serve on the high court.
Jackson was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 53-47, with three Republicans joining all Democratic senators in supporting her nomination.
Why Ketanji Brown Jackson was nominated?
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Jackson worked as a law clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she will eventually replace. She worked as a public defender and on the agency that develops federal sentencing policy before being confirmed by the Senate as a federal district court judge in 2013, and as a federal district court judge last year.
Democrats used a chart during Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings to show how he compares to recent justices in terms of experience.
How did Ketanji Brown Jackson become a Federal Judge: “She is one of the most eligible nominees for the Supreme Court that I’ve ever recognized in my 48 years here,” said Sen. Pat Leahy, the Democratic senator with the longest tenure, from the Senate floor on Thursday.
While conservative senators such as Mitch McConnell have portrayed her as a “radical left” nominee, retired federal judge Thomas Griffith, appointed by George W. Bush, testified last month that Jackson was “an independent jurist who adjudicates based on the facts and the law, and not as a partisan.”
How did the hearings go?
The days of Antonin Scalia being confirmed by a 98-0 vote (1986) or Justice Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed by a comfortable 68-31 vote (13 years ago) are long gone.
The Supreme Court wields enormous power over the contours of US public policy, perhaps even more so now that Congress is frequently polarised and unable to reach bipartisan agreement on many critical issues (for example, comprehensive immigration reform). Senators are increasingly concerned about the electoral ramifications of voting “against” their party on a judicial nominee.
While not as contentious as the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas (1991) and Brett Kavanaugh (2018), both of whom were accused of sexual misconduct, the Jackson hearings were certainly heated.
Republicans attempted to paint Jackson as soft on crime by forensically examining the sentences she handed down in cases involving defendants who possessed child porn. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker called the attack line “beyond the pale,” and his party accused Republicans of cherry-picking cases and failing to focus on an overall record of sentencing consistent with that of Republican-nominated federal judges. Furthermore, Jackson’s nomination was supported by the National Fraternal Order of Police.
What does her conformation imply?
Jackson is only the third Black justice and the sixth female justice in history. The overwhelming majority of the 116 justices in American history have been white men of European ancestry, with a predominance of Protestant religious affiliation.
How did Ketanji Brown Jackson become a Federal Judge: A recent Reuters report highlighted the incremental progress made in recent years in terms of the percentage of non-white law school graduates in the United States, but Black students are significantly under-represented in first-year law school classes when compared to the African American share of the U.S. population.
“I’m certain that more people who didn’t see themselves included in the law will look at Associate Justice Jackson and be inspired to pursue their dream of becoming a law student,” said Rutgers law dean Kimberly Mutcherson to Reuters.
The impact of this historic verification could transcend boundaries and “set an outstanding example for a lot of women and a lot of the young girls here in Canada,” according to Gemma Grey-Hall, an Ontario provincial candidate.
In 2020, Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of Canada’s Supreme Court, stated that there was “a growing recognition of the importance of our courts, including our highest court, reflecting the diversity of Canadians I would certainly welcome the new insights and perspectives that this could provide.”
The historic appointment of Indo-Canadian Mahmud Jamal soon followed, and another seat on Canada’s highest court will be filled this year due to the retirement of Justice Michael Moldaver.
Future court selections
This was President Joe Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee. Will this be the last time?
Justices only leave due to retirement or death, a situation viewed as undesirable by many legal experts, some of whom have proposed a floating number of justices to eliminate any partisan pressure on justices to make way for a younger person. After Breyer retires, Clarence Thomas, who is nearly 74, will be the oldest justice.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham made it clear this week that future nominees to the White House may face a difficult road after the midterm elections in November.
“If we regain control of the Senate and are in charge of this body, and there are judicial openings, we will consult with our colleagues on the other side.”
“But if we were in charge, [Jackson] would not have been in front of this committee,” Graham said. “You’d have gotten someone more moderate than this.”
So far, Biden nominations have resulted in Senate confirmation of 15 federal judges for U.S. courts of appeals and 43 federal district court judges, the most productive pace for a first-term administration since Ronald Reagan.
Graham’s remarks remind Democrats of Republican obstructionism in 2016 when the party failed to attend hearings for President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general.
In the run-up to the election, McConnell, the Senate majority leader at the time, argued that “the American people should have a say in the Court’s direction.”
Jackson is unlikely to be sworn in until the summer, as Breyer will serve out his current term, which expires in June. She’ll have to decide soon whether she’ll stay in her current federal position until then.
The Supreme Court has no term limit; Justice William O. Douglas served a record 36-plus years (until 1975).
Jackson’s nomination will not affect the court’s balance, as 6 justices were shortlisted by Republican presidents and three by Democratic presidents.
Given that recent Republican candidates have been sourced and vetted by the conservative Federalist Society, liberal legal advocates are concerned about a potential regression in the scope of abortion and gay rights, as well as a potential skew in policy favoring state governments over the federal executive.
Jackson’s first term begins on October 3. So far, the cases for that term have included those involving the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Trade Commission, voting rights, and a case that will pit religious rights against LGBTQ rights after a web designer refused to provide his services to a gay couple. Jackson has stated that she will recuse herself from a case involving Harvard’s admissions process because she serves on a university policy board there.
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