Ketanji Brown Jackson made history this Thursday.
The 51-year-old jurist was sworn in on this day and became the first African-American woman to be appointed as a justice of the Supreme Court from the United States.
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In a brief ceremony, Jackson took a constitutional oath, which was taken from her by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. She will now be the 116th justice and the sixth woman to serve on the highest court in the country.
His appointment, however, will not change the ideological composition of the Court, which remains controlled by a majority of six conservative magistrates working alongside three liberal-leaning magistrates.
Jackson had been confirmed by the Senate on April 7 with a total of 53 votes.
The 50 Democratic senators and three Republicans voted in favor of her appointment after US President Joe Biden nominated her last February to replace the judge Stephen Breyerwho announced his retirement.
“In this vote, the ‘yes’ are 53, the ‘no’ 47. And this nomination is confirmed,” said then the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, who assumed her role as president of the Senate in that session.
The Democratic majority applauded and cheered the result. Chuck Schumer, the Majority Leader, called it a “joyful day” for America.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of three Republicans who voted for Judge Jackson, said her decision was, in part, a sign of “rejection of corrosive politicization” around confirmation processes.
The new justice “will bring to the Supreme Court courtroom experience that few can match given her litigation record,” Murkowski added.
In the 233-year history of the Supreme Court, Jackson is the third person from the black community to sit on the highest court of the country, after Justices Thurgood Marshall (died 1993) and Clarence Thomas (currently in office).
The origin of Ketanji Brown Jackson
In nominating her to the Supreme Court, President Biden said that Jackson is “one of the brightest legal minds in the nation”. His career is wide.
Born in Washington DC in 1970, she grew up in Miami in the years when there were still effects of racial segregation in the southeast of the country.
“My parents taught me that despite the many barriers I faced growing up, if I worked hard and believed in myself and America, I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be,” says Jackson.
“It was my father who started me on this path. When I was a child, I saw him study and he became my first professional role model.”
In high school he was debate champion and president of her class.
Jackson has two degrees from Harvard University, an institution he entered with only three other African-American classmates.
“In those first moments of wondering if you belong, she was the anchor. She then she made sure we all were. She is the one who became the foundation for all of us,” says her former partner Lisa Fairfax.
At that time she met her husband, patrick jacksonwho was a medical student at Columbia and comes from a white Boston family.
Until now Jackson was part of the influential US Court of Appeals for the DC circuit.
She was previously in public defense, making her the first Supreme Court justice to have been a public defender before the courts.
In 2012, then-President Barack Obama nominated Jackson as a DC District Court Judge. During the eight years she spent there she wrote more than 500 opinions.
Among them, he ruled that Donald F McGhan II, President Donald Trump’s former White House lawyer, had to testify in the investigation into Russian meddling in the US election.
Upon being nominated, Judge Jackson spoke of her family and her legal mentors and role models.
She said that while clerking for Judge Breyer (for whom she replaces) from 1999-2000, she learned what it took for that job: “the highest level of skill and integrity, civility and grace”.
Justice Jackson also spoke briefly about her approach to the law: “I have been a judge for almost a decade and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously.”
“I decide cases from a neutral position. I assess the facts, interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favor, in accordance with my judicial oath.”
But, during the 30 hours of confirmation hearingsmany Republicans felt there were flaws in his past decisions.
They criticized her for not answering whether seats should be added to the Supreme Court (something Republicans reject) and for not wanting to define the term “woman.” She was also charged with leniency in child pornography cases.
However, Democrats said he has “all credentials” for the maximum position to which it was confirmed.
Some of the decisions in his judicial career were reviewed at confirmation hearings.
Senator Dick Durbin referred to allegations that he “has a pattern of letting child pornography offenders go free.”
She was singled out for giving “lenient” sentences prosecuted and advocated for reduced sentences when she was vice chair of the US Sentencing Commission, which advises Congress on federal sentencing guidelines.
The claims are misleading, according to various fact-checking sites.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jackson, who dodged criticism of his sentences that were at times below guidelines issued by Congress, but not unlike those of other judges.
He chose to speak of the harm caused by sex offenders and the lives that had been shattered. He described the range of punishments defendants received through their failures.
Another of his questionable moments was having been public defender of Guantanamo detainees.
Republicans criticized that he had provided “free legal services to help terrorists get out” of the military prison.
The judge said that public defenders are assigned cases and do not choose whom to represent, and that all defendants have a “right to representation and to be treated fairly” under the US justice system.
But he acknowledged that defending detainees sometimes meant helping free people who were later against US interests.
*This story was originally published on April 7, 2022, when Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the Senate, and was updated on June 30, 2022 after he was sworn in.