Journey to Justice

Ketanji Brown Jackson’s path to becoming a Supreme Court nominee.


By Judas Knox

On February 25th, 2022, President Joe Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the 116th U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The nomination put in motion a historic confirmation process for the first Black woman to be a justice on the Supreme Court, the highest judicial court in the nation.

Jackson was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Miami, Florida, where she graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High School in 1988. She was a skilled debater in high school, winning the national oratory title her senior year at one of the largest high school debate tournaments in the United States. After high school, Jackson attended Harvard University, where her senior thesis was titled, “The Hand of Oppression: Plea Bargaining Processes and the Coercion of Criminal Defendants.” She then attended Harvard Law School, where she held a prestigious position as the supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review. 

After graduating in 1996, Jackson served as a law clerk to Judge Patti B. Saris in the Massachusetts District Court, and then Judge Bruce M. Selya in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the First Circuit. After working for a year in a private law firm, she clerked in the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Steven Breyer, the Supreme Court Justice who she has subsequently been nominated to succeed. Between 2000 and 2010, Jackson held jobs at both private law firms and in U.S. government positions. She worked as an appellate specialist, an assistant special counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and a federal public defender. According to the Washington Post, Jackson “won uncommon victories against the government that shortened or erased lengthy prison terms” as a federal public defender.

In July of 2009, former President Barack Obama nominated Jackson to the position of vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commision, the agency that is responsible for articulating sentencing guidelines for the federal courts. The Senate confirmed this honorable nomination in February of 2010, and she served as vice chair until 2014. During this time, she took part in making important decisions regarding drug offenses. In September of 2012, Obama selected Jackson to succeed Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. on the U.S. District Court for District of Columbia (D.C.). During her time on the District Court, Jackson wrote a number of decisions that opposed the positions of the Trump administration. Currently, Jackson is on D.C.’s federal appellate court, a position she was confirmed for by the Senate in June of 2021. 

Now in 2022, President Joe Biden has nominated Jackson to succeed Judge Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, a position she is highly qualified to hold. Jackson has been considered a prime candidate for the Supreme Court vacancy ever since Judge Breyer publicly announced his retirement on January 27, 2022.

In Biden’s nomination speech for Jackson, he said, “For too long, our government, our courts haven’t looked like America. I believe it’s time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level.” As an African American woman, Jackson’s nomination is a significant step forward for the Supreme Court, and makes her a role model to many.