President Biden makes history with Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson

TheGrio was in the room at the White House cross hall as Biden gave his remarks on the nomination with Brown Jackson and Vice President Kamala Harris standing behind him.

President Joe Biden officially made history on Friday when he announced Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to become the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States.

U.S. President Joe Biden (C) introduces Ketanji Brown Jackson (L), a circuit judge on the U.S. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

TheGrio was in the room at the White House cross hall as President Biden gave his televised remarks on the nomination with Brown Jackson and Vice President Kamala Harris standing behind him.

The president urged the Senate to “move promptly” on Brown Jackson’s confirmation, who he said would bring extraordinary qualifications, deep experience in intellect and rigorous judicial record to the court.”

Judge Brown Jackson, 51, currently sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She was confirmed in June 2021 by the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. Now she will sit before the Senate once more seeking confirmation to the highest court in the land.

“I am standing here today by the grace of God as a testament to the love and support that I’ve received from my family,” Jackson said in her Friday remarks after being introduced by President Biden. 

Addressing Justice Stephen Bryer, whose seat she has been nominated to fill and for whom she law clerked for in 1999-2000, Jackson said, “the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat but I could never fill your shoes.”

Judge Brown Jackson began her career in private practice in Washington, D.C. in 2002. In 2010, she served as the vice-chair and commissioner of the United States Sentencing Commission. During that same time, she also served as a federal trial court judge for eight years. 

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, delivers remarks with U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Vice President Kamala Harris during an event in the Cross Hall of the White House February 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Brown Jackson comes from a family that is steeped in law enforcement with an uncle and brother in Miami and Baltimore police departments. However, her family life is not without some commonality with many Black families. 

During Jackson’s early years in service as a public defender, she received a request from a distant uncle who was serving a life sentence on federal drug charges. She subsequently referred her uncle to a prominent Washington D.C. law firm that filed a petition for clemency for her uncle. Her uncle, Thomas Brown, was released at 78 years old in 2016 when then-President Barack Obama commuted the sentence after he spent over 25 years in prison.

Many of her decisions have been publicized and deliberated on during her prior confirmation hearings. 

Brown Jackson was a part of the reported shortlist of potential candidates since President Biden took office in 2021. Other contenders included judges J. Michelle Childs of the federal district court in South Carolina and Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, among other Black women lawyers and judges.

Supreme Court candidates
Left to right: Leondra Kruger, Ketanji Brown Jackson, J. Michelle Childs (Photo: AP/Getty Images)

Since the announcement of Justice Stephen Bryer’s retirement and President Biden’s assurance that he would fulfill his campaign promise of nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court, all of the candidates found themselves under the spotlight. 

In addition to hiring Brown Jackson as his law clerk, Justice Bryer also swore her in when she first became a federal judge. As The Boston Globe reported, “Breyer praised President Barack Obama for his ‘wise decision’ to nominate Jackson to the D.C. district court and the Senate for confirming her. ‘Moreover, this is a family affair,’ Breyer told the audience. ‘This is a judicial family affair.”

“It was Breyer who swore her in when she first became a federal judge 17 years after her clerkship. In a ceremony where judges and lawyers praised her unflappability as much as her friendship and enthusiastic analysis of reality TV shows like ‘Survivor,’ Breyer praised President Barack Obama for his ‘wise decision’ to nominate Jackson to the D.C. district court and the Senate for confirming her. ‘Moreover, this is a family affair,’ Breyer told the audience. ‘This is a judicial family affair.’” 

U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson praised Brown Jackson’s nomination, telling theGrio, “I think it is especially impactful for me because Judge Brown Jackson is from Miami…I have known her family for years. Her father served as the school board attorney when I served on the school board. In fact, I had them to hire him as the first Black school board attorney.”

“To have a Black woman and then to have a Black woman who, you know, is eminently qualified, who has stood the test of time. And to watch during this period of time, after January 6th and all that we have been through with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, this would just be the crowning glory of this nation because Black women carry this country on their backs.”

Congresswoman Wilson added, “What would America be, what would Black families be without Black women? We are the foundation, the foundation of this nation. So it’s time for us to have a Black woman on the court to bring our perspective to the nation, to the debate, to the bills, to whatever is happening in this country.

“It’s time. It’s time, and I just think if we had had one a long time ago. Think about what the difference it would have made in this country if we had had a Black woman before.”

In the midst of the conflict in Ukraine, President Biden had been determined to make the historic decision by the end of February to mark Black History Month. Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, told theGrio in the daily briefing on Wednesday, “he is very much looking forward to making this announcement and getting this individual confirmed.”

In this April photo, Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, is sworn in to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images)

Psaki went on to say just hours before the Russian strikes on Ukraine, “I think the president is looking forward to announcing a historic, eminently qualified Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. He feels there’s tremendous honor in that he takes the role that every president has in selecting and nominating someone to the Supreme Court very seriously. That’s why he has been spending time not just studying bios, but also reviewing cases and engaging very closely with an internal team on this process.” 

Sources close to the White House, however, have told theGrio that there is disappointment that this historic moment for Brown Jackson is being overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine.

Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the AME Church told theGrio, “This is an incredible moment in the history of our nation. Diversity and inclusion must never be left to chance. It must be intentional which makes this a bittersweet moment. You shouldn’t have to be that intentional to get our qualified best legal minds on the Supreme Court bench.”

She added, “Black women still have to be better than the best, work twice as hard often for less.”

The White House recognizes this incredible moment to have the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. “There are a range of eminently qualified Black women whose names have been out there as potential nominees. All of these women would make tremendous additions to the Supreme Court,” said Psaki.

The presidential spokesperson would not acknowledge if the president had met with any of the nominee potentials prior to making his decision in the James Brady Briefing Room, even as The Washington Post reported that prior to the announcement, President Biden had met with at least two of the top candidates for the Supreme Court.

During the process, White House officials were adamant that the women would not be pit against one another and would leave the process with their professional reputation intact. The Biden official also said all the women considered for the bench were each qualified to be the next Supreme Court justice.  

This historic nomination marks the first time in 233 years a Black woman had a seat on the high court that is considered the final word on the question of law. 

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