Jan 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right). Photos: Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, U.S. Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.

  • Biden pledged during the 2020 campaign to make a Black woman his first Supreme Court nominee. The early chatter in Washington’s liberal legal circles has focused intensely on Jackson and Kruger, but additional names are sure to surface as the actual process of picking a nominee gets under way.
Ketanji Brown Jackson

The Senate confirmed Jackson to her seat on the powerful D.C. Circuit just last summer, by a 53-44 vote — and that may be one of the strongest arguments in her favor. Every Democrat voted for her six months ago; it’d be hard for them to oppose her now.

Catch up quick: Jackson served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission when it significantly reduced the sentences for some drug crimes — including allowing thousands of prisoners to seek early release for crack cocaine crimes.

  • She’s also had a role in some of former President Trump’s high-profile legal battles. As a district court judge, she wrote a particularly scathing opinion rejecting the Trump administration’s sweeping claims of immunity and ruling that a House committee could compel testimony from then-White House Counsel Don McGahn.
  • More recently, she was part of a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit that said Trump had to turn over documents to the Jan. 6 committee.
Leondra Kruger

Kruger’s resume perfectly fits the mold of a Supreme Court justice, but with the unique twist that she’d be coming from a state supreme court rather than the federal bench.

Catch up quick: She served in the Justice Department for six years during the Obama administration, arguing a dozen cases before the Supreme Court. Attorneys who worked with her rave about her in the press.

  • Kruger has developed a reputation on the California Supreme Court as moderate and incrementalist, The Los Angeles Times reports, especially in criminal cases.
  • In 2019, she wrote a ruling upholding a controversial California law that requires police to take DNA samples from everyone they arrest for a felony, including people who may never be charged or convicted.
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