Apr 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed as first Black female Supreme Court justice

Picture of Joe Biden and Ketanji Brown Jackson hugging
President Biden embraces Ketanji Brown Jackson moments after the U.S. Senate confirmed her to be the first Black woman to be a justice on the Supreme Court in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on April 7. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It’s official: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be a Supreme Court justice, following a 53-47 confirmation vote in the Senate on Thursday.

Why it matters: She’ll be the first Black female justice in the court’s history, and the first justice to have served as a public defender. But as a member of the court’s diminished liberal wing, Jackson will likely be on the losing end of a lot of big cases for a long time.

The big picture: Notwithstanding a circus-like confirmation hearing, Jackson’s nomination has been smooth. Her confirmation was never really in doubt, and she secured some bipartisan support. Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney all voted to confirm her.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote. After gaveling the vote and making the confirmation official, senators broke out into sustained applause.
  • The whole process, from her nomination on Feb. 25 to her confirmation Thursday, took just 42 days, well below the modern average.
  • Jackson joined President Biden at the White House to watch the results of the Senate vote, per the press pool.

What’s next: Justice Stephen Breyer will stick around until the court’s current term ends this summer. Breyer, not Jackson, will participate in this term’s big rulings, including a landmark abortion case that could spell the end of Roe v. Wade.

  • Jackson will begin hearing cases when the next term begins in October.
  • The court has already teed up several politically charged cases for its next term.
  • The biggest blockbuster so far is a challenge to affirmative action in college admissions, but Jackson has said she would recuse herself from at least part of that case, because it concerns admissions policies at Harvard and she is a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers.

What we’re watching: As the most junior justice and one of only three justices appointed by a Democratic president, Jackson won’t be writing any major rulings any time soon. But one of her biggest chances to make a mark on the court may come from criminal cases.

  • She will be the only justice with any real experience defending people who have been accused of a crime. That’s an extremely relevant background as the court decides plenty of cases about criminal defendants’ rights and the processes that police and prosecutors must follow.
  • And at times, those cases can scramble traditional ideological divisions on the court.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.

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