Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson is an American jurist who serves as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Jackson was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Joe Biden on February 25, 2022. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on April 7, 2022, and sworn into office on June 30. She was previously a United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 2021 to 2022.
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Miami, Florida, Jackson attended Harvard University for college and law school, where she served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. She began her legal career with three clerkships, including one with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. Prior to her elevation to the Court of Appeals, she served as a district judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia from 2013 to 2021. Jackson was also vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission from 2010 to 2014. Since 2016, she has been a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers.
Jackson succeeded Justice Breyer upon his retirement from the court on June 30, 2022. She is the first Black woman and the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.
After law school, Jackson served as a law clerk to judge Patti B. Saris of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts from 1996 to 1997, then to judge Bruce M. Selya of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit from 1997 to 1998. She spent a year in private practice at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Miller Cassidy Larroca & Lewin (now part of Baker Botts), then clerked for U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer from 1999 to 2000.
Jackson worked in private legal practice from 2000 to 2003, first at the law firm of Goodwin Procter from 2000 to 2002, then with Kenneth Feinberg at the law firm now called Feinberg & Rozen LLP from 2002 to 2003. From 2003 to 2005, she was an assistant special counsel to the United States Sentencing Commission. From 2005 to 2007, Jackson was an assistant federal public defender in Washington, D.C., where she handled cases before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A Washington Post review of cases Jackson handled during her time as a public defender showed that "she won uncommon victories against the government that shortened or erased lengthy prison terms". From 2007 to 2010, Jackson was an appellate specialist in private practice at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster.
U.S. Sentencing Commission (2010–2014)
On July 23, 2009, Barack Obama nominated Jackson to become vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission. The United States Senate confirmed Jackson by unanimous consent on February 11, 2010. She succeeded Michael E. Horowitz, who had served from 2003 until 2009. Jackson served on the Sentencing Commission until 2014. During her time on the commission, it retroactively amended the Sentencing Guidelines to reduce the guideline range for crack cocaine offenses, and enacted the "drugs minus two" amendment, which implemented a two offense-level reduction for drug crimes.
District Court judge (2013–2021)
On September 20, 2012, Obama nominated Jackson to serve as a United States district judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to the seat vacated by retiring judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. Jackson was introduced at her December 2012 confirmation hearing by Republican Paul Ryan, a relative through marriage, who said "Our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji's intellect, for her character, for her integrity, it is unequivocal." On February 14, 2013, her nomination was reported to the full Senate by voice vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She was confirmed by the full Senate by voice vote on March 22, 2013. She received her commission on March 26, 2013, and was sworn in by Justice Breyer in May 2013. Her service as a district judge was terminated on June 17, 2021 when she was elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
During her time on the District Court, Jackson wrote multiple decisions adverse to the positions of the Trump administration. In her opinion ordering Trump's former White House counsel Donald McGahn to comply with a legislative subpoena, she wrote "presidents are not kings". Jackson handled a number of challenges to executive agency actions that raised questions of administrative law. She also issued rulings in several cases that gained particular political attention.
Bloomberg Law reported in spring 2021 that conservative activists were pointing to certain decisions by Jackson that had been reversed on appeal as a "potential blemish on her record". In 2019, Jackson ruled that provisions in three Trump executive orders conflicted with federal employee rights to collective bargaining. Her decision was reversed unanimously by the D.C. Circuit. Another 2019 decision, involving a challenge to a Department of Homeland Security decision to expand the agency's definition of which noncitizens could be deported, was also reversed by the D.C. Circuit. Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, defended Jackson's record, saying Jackson "has written nearly 600 opinions and been reversed less than twelve times".
Court of Appeals (2021–2022)
On March 30, 2021, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Jackson to serve as a United States circuit judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. On April 19, 2021, her nomination was sent to the Senate. President Biden nominated Jackson to the seat vacated by Judge Merrick Garland, who stepped down to become attorney general.
On April 28, 2021, a hearing on her nomination was held before the Senate Judiciary Committee. During her confirmation hearing, Jackson was questioned about several of her rulings against the Trump administration. On May 20, 2021, Jackson's nomination was reported out of committee by a 13–9 vote. On June 10, 2021, the United States Senate invoked cloture on her nomination by a 52–46 vote. On June 14, 2021, her nomination was confirmed by a 53–44 vote. Republican senators Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Lisa Murkowski joined all 50 Democrats in voting to confirm her nomination. She received her judicial commission on June 17, 2021. Her service as a circuit judge was terminated on June 29, 2022, the day before she was sworn in as the Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
In her first written opinion for the court of appeals, Jackson, joined by the rest of the panel, invalidated a 2020 rule by the Federal Labor Relations Authority that had restricted the bargaining power of federal-sector labor unions.
Supreme Court (2022–present)
The Supreme Court released its final merit opinions during the morning of June 30, 2022. At noon, Justice Breyer officially retired and Jackson was sworn in, becoming the first Black woman and the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.
On July 21, Jackson voted on her first Supreme Court case, joining the dissent in a 5–4 decision refusing to block a district court ruling that prevented the Biden administration from setting new enforcement priorities for immigrants entering the U.S. or living in the country illegally. She participated in her first oral argument as an associate justice on October 3, in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency. On November 7 she wrote her first opinion, a two-page dissent from a denial of review in the case of a death row inmate in Chinn v. Shoop; the opinion was joined by Justice Sotomayor.
On September 28, 2022, Jackson was assigned to the First Circuit.