As a district court judge in Washington, D.C., Jackson met with President
Now Jackson, 50, is poised to join the Washington appeals court that Garland left in March to become U.S. attorney general. And if 82-year-old Justice
Jackson combines a powerful resume with the potential to fill long-standing gaps at the Supreme Court. She would fulfill Biden’s promise to nominate the first Black woman to the court. And she’d bring an unusual set of professional experiences, including a background as a public defender and a record of work on disparities in criminal punishment.
“That’s an asset,” said
Jackson was one of three Black women
Some conservatives remain wary of Jackson, who has weighed in on some of the most contentious legal issues of the Trump era.
“She was among a group of federal district court judges that seemed to view themselves as part of the Trump resistance as they ruled against the administration on challenges to executive orders and agency rules,” said
Jackson declined to comment for this story.
The judge grew up in Miami, where her father worked as a lawyer for the county school board and her mother was the principal of a magnet school. She attended Harvard University and Harvard Law School. Jackson then secured a prestigious clerkship with Breyer, a pragmatist and consensus-builder on the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, working for him in the court’s 1999-2000 term.
Years later, during hearings on Jackson’s nomination to be a federal judge, an Obama vetting committee quoted Breyer describing his former law clerk as “brilliant. She is a mix of common sense, thoughtfulness. She is decent. She is very smart and has the mix of skills and experience we need on the bench.”
Early in her career, Jackson worked for
“Like so many women who enter Big Law, I soon found it extremely challenging,” she said in a 2017 speech at the University of Georgia. “You start to feel as though the demands of the billable hour are constantly in conflict with the needs of your children and your family responsibilities.”
In 2003, she became an assistant special counsel at the sentencing commission, which develops guidelines for federal courts. Two years later, Jackson joined the appellate division of the federal public defender’s office in Washington, where she won an unlikely victory in a complex tax case involving documents the defendant had produced under a grant of immunity. At oral arguments, Jackson “did an incredible job of explaining it in a way that made it comprehensible,” said A.J. Kramer, who runs the public defender’s office.
Obama nominated Jackson for a seat on the sentencing commission in 2009. While she was eventually confirmed, the vetting process lasted for more than six months.
“I actually taught myself to knit as a way to channel my nervous energy,” she said in the 2017 speech.
Jackson endured an even more stressful wait for confirmation after her next appointment. In September 2012, Obama nominated her for the U.S. District Court in Washington. But with the presidential election just weeks away, the Senate adjourned without considering her.
That raised the prospect that Jackson could lose a lifetime appointment to the federal bench if Obama was defeated by Republican nominee
“I was unusually jumpy,” Jackson said in the 2017 speech, “and started so many scarves that I could’ve outfitted a small army.”
Obama won a second term, and the Senate, in a voice vote, confirmed her to the federal bench in March 2013.
In Jackson’s most prominent case, she ruled in 2019 that former White House counsel
“Presidents are not kings,” she
Jackson also ruled against the Trump administration when she blocked a regulation aimed at speeding up deportations, though her decision was reversed on appeal. She prevented Trump’s Health and Human Services Department from terminating grants to groups that work to reduce teen pregnancies. And she partially
But Jackson sided with Trump in 2019, when she said environmental groups couldn’t challenge construction of the president’s border wall. The Supreme Court
Throughout her tenure, Jackson has earned a reputation as a warm and relaxed presence on the bench, willing to give lawyers ample time to make their arguments.
“She was not gruff at all -- she was very polite, very personable,” said
In the early weeks of the Biden administration, Jackson has emerged as a favorite for the next Supreme Court vacancy, alongside
Jackson “is surely on any Supreme Court shortlist, having served on an extremely prominent trial court and having been well known and respected for years in Democratic legal circles,” said
For some liberals, Jackson would be a welcome reinforcement at a Supreme Court where conservatives hold a 6-3 majority.
Jackson offers “stellar credentials” and “a demonstrated commitment to equal justice,” said
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