Brown, Ketanji Jackson does not have the typical background of a US Supreme Court justice.
Not just because she’s a woman of African-American descent.
While many judges have worked as prosecutors, Jackson worked as a federal public defender for two years, representing indigent defendants.
She has served on the US Sentencing Commission, an independent agency established by Congress in 1984 to address disparities in sentencing.
And Jackson has firsthand knowledge of the harsh sentences meted out for drug offenses in the United States; his uncle was sentenced to life in prison for cocaine possession in 1989.
“The law isn’t just an abstract set of concepts for Ketanji,” a friend and former colleague at the public defender’s office told reporters. “Her family’s experience does inform her awareness of the true impact the law has on people’s lives,” said a friend.
In her Senate confirmation hearing for a seat on the US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021, Jackson, 51, mentioned her unconventional background.
“Because of who I am, I’ve experienced life in a different way than some of my colleagues, and that might be valuable — I hope it is valuable — if I am confirmed to the court,” she said.
President Joe Biden nominated Jackson on Friday to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal stalwart who announced last month that he would step down at the end of the current court term. Jackson, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
Thurgood Marshall, who served from 1967 to 1991, and Clarence Thomas, who succeeded Marshall and is still on the bench, are the only African-American Supreme Court justices.
Jackson was born in Washington but raised in Florida, where both of her parents were teachers.
Her father went on to become a school board lawyer in Miami, while her mother became a principal.
In 1996, Jackson graduated from Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Black Law Students Association and the Harvard Law Review. Following graduation, she worked for a number of prestigious law firms in Boston and Washington, as well as as a law clerk for Breyer in 1999 and 2000.
Jackson joined the US Sentencing Commission as an assistant special counsel in 2003 and worked for the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Washington from 2005 to 2007.
According to the Post, while she was at the public defender’s office, her father’s incarcerated older brother, Thomas Brown Jr, reached out to her, asking for help getting him out of prison.
She referred his appeal to a top private law firm, and Brown’s sentence was commuted in November 2016 by Barack Obama, one of hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders whose sentences were reduced during his presidency. Jackson was nominated to be a US District Court judge by Obama in 2013.
Her most notable decision came in 2019, when she ruled that a former White House counsel to President Donald Trump was required to comply with a congressional subpoena.
“Presidents are not kings,” wrote Jackson.
Biden nominated her in March 2021 to serve as a US Circuit Judge for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a position seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.
“I don’t think race has any bearing on the type of judge I have been or would be,” Jackson said during her Senate confirmation hearing.
“I’m considering the arguments, facts, and law. I’m methodically and purposefully putting aside my personal opinions, as well as any other irrelevant considerations,” she stated. “And I would think that race would be the kind of thing that would be inappropriate to inject into my evaluation of a case.”
Jackson is married to Patrick Jackson, a surgeon. They have two daughters.
She is related by marriage to Paul Ryan, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives and 2012 vice presidential candidate.