Joe Biden announces first Black woman as Supreme Court judge

Published on Feb 25, 2022 11:59 PM IST

Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the first African-American woman in American history to serve in the highest court of the land in its history.

Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the first African-American woman in U history to serve in the highest court of the land in its history. (REUTERS)
Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the first African-American woman in U history to serve in the highest court of the land in its history. (REUTERS)
ByPrashant Jha I Washington

Making history, US President Joe Biden has nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve as a judge in the US Supreme Court. If confirmed by the Senate, Jackson will become the first African-American woman in American history to serve in the highest court of the land in its history.

Announcing his decision, Biden described Jackson as one of “our nation’s brightest legal minds” and said she would be an “exceptional justice”. Jackson, a judge in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, was one of Biden’s first federal judicial nominees in 2021; before that, she served as a district court judge in DC since 2013.

During his presidential election campaign in February 2020, Biden had first publicly committed to nominating a Black woman to the court. This was in the backdrop of debates around the embedded racial bias in criminal justice system, the lack of diversity and representation in the court, and a conservative turn in jurisprudence.

The SC has nine judges, with six who lean conservative or right (and were nominated by Republican administrations) and three who lean liberal (and were nominated by Democratic administrations). Justice Stephen G Breyer, who was nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1994, announced his decision to retire last month - thus creating a vacancy for Biden to fill.

Jackson has served as a former clerk to Breyer. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Jackson has served as public defender - a White House statement pointed out that she would be the first former public defender to serve as an SC judge - as well as the vice chair of the US sentencing commission, a bipartisan agency to reduce sentencing disparities.

The decision to nominate a Black woman to the court had drawn political criticism from the Republicans, who claimed that it was not race or gender but merit and judicial ability that should determine the nomination. Responding to that criticism, Joe Biden had said, earlier this month, that the person he would nominate would be of “extraordinary qualifications, character and integrity”. “And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court. It is long-overdue”.

There have only been two Black judges in the SC so far, Thurgood Marshall, who retired in 1991, and Clarence Thomas, who is still on the bench. Jackson also becomes only the sixth woman to become an SC judge; three are currently on the bench, and if confirmed, she will be the fourth, making it the most gender-inclusive bench in SC’s history.

Political observers believe that while Biden will seek to send a message to his constituency about his commitment to the cause of justice and diversity through the nomination, the Republicans will tap into White anxieties and fears to mobilise opinion against the nomination.

Jackson’s nomination does not change the balance of the court. But it comes at a critical time, when the SC is hearing cases on some of America’s most contentious issues such as gun rights, affirmative action, and perhaps most significantly, abortion - where the jurisprudence that followed the historic Roe vs Wade judgment of 1973, which upheld abortion rights and prohibited excessive restrictions till the stage of foetal viability, is at stake.

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