Ketanji Brown Jackson is nominated to become first black woman on US supreme court

Biden fulfills campaign promise in ‘historic’ nomination to country’s highest court

Ketanji Brown Jackson is an ‘exceptionally qualified’ supreme court nominee, the White House said. File photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

US president Joe Biden on Friday nominated judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the supreme court, seeking to elevate a black woman to the country's highest court for the first time in its 232-year history.

Ms Jackson (51) was nominated to succeed justice Stephen Breyer (83), for whom she clerked. Mr Justice Breyer, the most senior jurist in the court's three-member liberal wing, will retire at the end of the court's current session this summer.

"Judge Jackson is an exceptionally qualified nominee as well as a historic nominee, and the Senate should move forward with a fair and timely hearing and confirmation," the White House said in a statement.

Ms Jackson sits on the powerful US court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, after winning bipartisan approval for her appointment to the court during her Senate confirmation last year, when Mr Biden elevated her from the federal district court in the District of Columbia.


Born in the nation's capital and raised in Miami, Ms Jackson clerked for Mr Justice Breyer during the supreme court's 1999-2000 term. She is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School.

Among her many legal jobs, Ms Jackson worked as a public defender, an experience that sets her apart from many judges sitting on the federal bench.

In its statement, the White House said Mr Biden had sought a nominee “who is wise, pragmatic, and has a deep understanding of the constitution as an enduring charter of liberty”.

It added: “The president sought an individual who is committed to equal justice under the law and who understands the profound impact that the supreme court’s decisions have on the lives of the American people.”

Campaign promise

Ms Jackson’s nomination fulfills a campaign promise Mr Biden made to supporters when his prospects of winning the Democratic presidential nomination appeared dim.

Her confirmation would not affect the current ideological composition of the court, which is controlled by a conservative super-majority of six justices, including three appointed by former president Donald Trump, but it would secure a liberal seat on the bench probably for decades to come.

The opportunity to name a justice to the supreme court is a welcome bright spot for the president, whose approval ratings have fallen to record lows as he confronts myriad crises at home and abroad. It is also his most significant opportunity yet to shape the federal judiciary, which remains overwhelmingly white and male.

When Mr Justice Breyer announced his retirement in January, Mr Biden vowed to nominate a jurist with “extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity”. And, he added, “that person will be the first black woman ever nominated to the United States supreme court”.

Urged to do so by Democratic congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina ahead of the state's primary, Mr Biden made the pledge to name a black woman to the court two years ago during a debate for the presidential nomination. Days later, with Mr Clyburn's endorsement, black voters lifted Mr Biden to a resounding victory in the South Carolina primary that set in motion a string of successes that ultimately earned him the nomination and later the White House.

The promise divided Republican senators, some of whom argued that race or gender shouldn't play a role in the selection process, despite similar commitments from Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and Mr Trump.

Moving forward

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have said they intend to move forward quickly with the confirmation process.

Senate leader Chuck Schumer said: "The historic nomination of Judge Jackson is an important step toward ensuring the supreme court reflects the nation as a whole. As the first black woman supreme court justice in the court's 232-year history, she will inspire countless future generations of young Americans."

Mr Schumer added: “With her exceptional qualifications and record of evenhandedness, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be a justice who will uphold the constitution and protect the rights of all Americans, including the voiceless and vulnerable.”

It will be the first supreme court confirmation hearing for a Democratic president since Elena Kagan was nominated by Barack Obama 12 years ago. Republicans refused to hold a hearing for Mr Obama's nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, which further poisoned a process that has become a scorched-earth affair.

But there are already early signs that this confirmation may be different, as Republicans weigh how aggressively to confront Mr Biden’s nominee, particularly when it will not affect the balance of the court.

With their agenda stalled and the president unpopular, Democrats are hopeful the nomination will energise their base as they brace for a political backlash in this year’s midterm elections. – Guardian