Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed with bipartisan support on Monday to the powerful D.C. Circuit, becoming President Joe Biden’s first appellate appointment.
The Senate confirmed Jackson 53-44 with three Republicans voting yes in the bitterly divided chamber controlled by Democrats.
She replaces Attorney General Merrick Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, known for its high-profile docket and as a potential springboard to the Supreme Court. She’s viewed as a possible Biden high-court nominee if he gets to name one, especially if Stephen Breyer, 82, retires. Jackson is a former Breyer clerk.
Jackson, 50, is the ninth Black woman to become a federal appellate judge. She was appointed in 2013 by Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Her prominent decisions in the trial court include a 2019 ruling that former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn had to testify to Congress.
Like many of Biden’s judicial nominees, Jackson brings unique background to the appellate bench as a former public defender. The Biden administration has set out to add more demographic and professional diversity.
Just 1% of circuit court judges have spent the majority of their careers as public defenders or within a legal aid setting, according to an August 2020 Center for American Progress study. So far, all of Biden’s nominees for regional circuits have had public defense experience.
At her April confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jackson explained how her experience as a public defender would influence her approach on the circuit bench.
“One of the things that I do now, is I take extra care to communicate with the defendants who come before me in the court room. I speak to them directly and not just to their lawyers. I use their names. I explain every stage of the proceeding,” Jackson said.
To date, Biden has named 19 people for lifetime federal judgeships. The Senate has confirmed three other trial court nominees for courts in New Jersey and Colorado. And Senate Democrats and Biden have promised to keep up the pace of confirmations.
Jackson’s confirmation was expected. Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted yes.