On 7 April, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as a Supreme Court Justice — the first ever African-American woman in the court's 233-year history. Despite hostile Senate hearings, three Republican Senators gave their votes to confirm the nomination. When he fulfilled an election promise by nominating Ms. Brown Jackson, President Biden explained, “For too long our government, our courts haven’t looked like America.”
President Biden nominated Ms Brown Jackson after Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would retire this summer. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. They are nominated by the President but have to be confirmed by the Senate. Breyer is currently one of three “liberal” Justices along with six “conservatives”. Presidents generally nominate Justices associated with their own politics, so liberal Brown Jackson was a logical pick for Biden. Since the Senate is currently split 50-50 Republican and Democrat, the nomination was likely to pass, as Vice-President Kamala Harris has a casting vote. In the event, three Republican Senators “crossed the aisle” to support the nomination.
If any Democratic Senators lose their seats at the Midterm elections in November, this may be Biden’s only opportunity to have a nominated judge confirmed.
Justice Brown Jackson
Brown Jackson,51, has had a long career in many aspects of the justice system. She was brought up in Florida, and pointed out in her confirmation speech that her family has gone from segregation to Supreme Court Justice in one generation. Both her parents were teachers. Her mother went on to be a school administrator. Her father went to law school when Brown Jackson was a child, inspiring her to follow in his footsteps
She studied at Harvard and was was editor of the Harvard Law Review like one of her role models, Barack Obama. After law school, she worked as a clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, a public defender and a defense attorney in private practice. She served as a District Court Judge before joining the DC District Court of Appeals last year. When President Obama was nominating a Justice in 2016, Brown Jackson’s the-11-year-old daughter wrote to him asking to add her mother to his list.
In over 200 years, 120 Justices have served on the Supreme Court, 115 of them men and 117 white. The first woman, Sandra Day Connor, was only appointed in 1981. The first African American Justice was Thurgood Marshall, appointed in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson, after he led the NAACP case in Brown Vs Board of Education, the landmark ruling on school desegregation.
Defenders vs. Prosecutors
Marshall was also the last Justice before Brown Jackson who had experience as a public defender — a lawyer appointed by the courts to defend the accused.
Of the judges in the U.S. court system as a whole, former prosecutors outnumber defense attorneys by four to one according to a recent study by the Cato Institute. It could be argued that having preponderance of judges whose principal experience is on one side or the other of the prosecution-defence divide can skew the system in one direction.
Some of the most aggressive and hostile questioning Brown Jackson faced from Republican senators during the confirmation hearings was about her time was a public defender, implying that by defending criminals she somehow sided with them.
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