Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson? 5 things to know about first Black woman on Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the Senate in a 53-47 vote to replace Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jackson, 51, currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and was on President Barack Obama’s shortlist for the nation’s highest court in 2016. Breyer announced his retirement in late January. Jackson is the third Black justice and the sixth woman in Supreme Court history. She is the first Black woman to fill the seat on the high court.

She will be sworn in after Justice Breyer retires this summer.

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Here are 5 things to know about Jackson:

Early life

Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in suburban Miami-Dade County, the Miami Herald reported. Her father, Johnny Brown, was the attorney for the Miami-Dade County School board, while her mother, Ellory Brown, was principal at New World School of the Arts, a magnet high school and college that specializes in dual enrollment programs, in Miami from 1993 to 2007, the newspaper reported.

‘Star in the making’

Jackson attended Miami Palmetto Senior High School, where she was a speech and debate champion, the Herald reported. As a high school senior in 1988 she won the national oratory title at the National Catholic Forensic League Championships in New Orleans, the second-largest high school debate tournament in the country, the newspaper reported in June 1988. Brown and her teammates also won the overall team title at the tournament.

“She was a star in the making,” Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University and Jackson’s former high school classmate and debate teammate, told the Herald.

As a senior, Jackson also received an honorable mention in the drama category of the Miami Herald’s Silver Knight awards, according to the newspaper’s archives.

Jackson’s high school alma mater also has a few famous alums, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (Class of 1982) and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy (Class of 1994), according to the newspaper.

Law career

Jackson graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and clerked for Breyer during the 1999-2000 Supreme Court term, The New York Times reported. She also edited the Harvard Law Review, according to The Atlantic.

She has also served as an assistant federal public defender in the District of Columbia and was vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the Herald reported. From 2005 to 2007 she was an assistant federal public defender in Washington, according to the Times.

Obama nominated her in 2012 to serve as a district court judge in D.C., the newspaper reported.

Legal cases

Jackson’s caseload included the 2019 case when she ruled that Donald McGahn, the former White House counsel to President Donald Trump, had to obey a congressional subpoena compelling him to testify over the former president’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation, the Times reported.

“The primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote. “This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the people of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Personal life

Jackson has two daughters and is related by marriage to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Times reported. Her husband, Patrick Jackson, is a surgeon and the twin brother of Ryan’s brother-in-law, according to the newspaper. Ryan testified on Ketanji Jackson Brown’s behalf at her 2012 confirmation hearing, calling her “clearly qualified” and “an amazing person.”

“Our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, for her integrity, it is unequivocal,” Ryan said at time, according to the Times. “She is an amazing person, and I favorably recommend your consideration.”