The Supreme Court is the highest judicial court in the United States, with its decisions having a great impact on both American society and on the protection of civil rights and liberties. Cases that have been discussed by the Supreme Court have defined views on important issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and gun rights, topics that are constantly fiercely debated within American society. Presidential nominations to the Supreme Court therefore are incredibly important and influential – not only are they a way for a President to leave their mark long after their tenure has ended, but their nomination has a great impact on the political sway of of Supreme Court decisions.
Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement in January of this year, after more than 27 years serving on the court. His vacancy has provided an opportunity for incumbent President Joe Biden to provide a nominee that could remain on the court for decades, and maintain the current 6-3 conservative split on the court. It is very important to maintain this divide, in order to ensure issues debated on the court are not ideologically swung in a particular way. For any Supreme Court justice nomination, the president chooses his preferred candidate, and the Senate then votes to confirm that nominee, requiring a simple majority.
Biden has chosen to nominate 51 year old Ketanji Brown Jackson, whose nomination is monumental in more than one way. It marks her as the first black woman to be nominated for a supreme court position, and if elected would consequently make her the first black women to serve on the court. This is historic in ending the erasure of black women from sacred legal institutions, making it an important step in addressing racial injustice. Furthermore, it will be the first time four women will sit together on the nine member court, another incredible step in furthering gender equality.
Jackson has been described by Biden as ‘one of the nation’s brightest legal minds’, with an “independent mind, uncompromising integrity and a strong moral compass”. So who is Ketanji Brown Jackson?
Born in Washington DC and raised in Miami, Jackson has received two degrees from Harvard University, one as an undergraduate and one as a law student, after being told by her school guidance counsellor to not set her sights so high. She served as editor for the Harvard Law review during her time there, a prestigious post and paper that has had many influential individuals working on it before her, including previous President Barack Obama and Supreme Court Justices such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer himself. From 2013 to 2021, she served as a district judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
In terms of the role Jackson will play regarding judicial decisions, it appears she will be as liberal as Stephen Breyer, the judge she is replacing. When looking at her record of 500 judicial opinions, it appears as one that champions equality and justice. She has fought to defend the rights of incarcerated individuals, issued rulings that have protected women’s rights and wrote multiple decisions adverse to the positions of the Trump Administration.
Her liberal position puts her in sharp contrast to the previous newest addition to the supreme court, Amy Coney Barrett. Her nomination was full of controversy – President Trump was criticized for rushing her nomination against the final wish of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the judge who Coney Barrett was replacing, who asked not to be succeeded ‘until a new President is installed’. The Democrats in the Senate were unanimous in their opposition against her also.
Jackson has a great chance for her nomination to be successful and be appointed to the Supreme Court – the Senate is currently 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, and so if the Democrats are unanimous in their support for her, she will be elected. If chosen, her position on the court will be incredibly promising for the future of US politics – diversifying the court is the first step to empowering the judiciary to provide justice for us all. It is a move that underscores the lack of diversity on the court, and highlights just how underrepresented black women have been in the federal judiciary. Only 1.8% of federal judges that have served have been black women, a statistic that is shocking and extremely unrepresentative of the American public as a whole. Therefore, Jackson’s nomination provides hope for a more diverse justice system as time moves on, and paves the way for more women, particularly women of colour, to have a place in the judicial system.