What We Know About Ketanji Brown Jackson

Ketanji Brown Jackson might not be a name you have heard much, but you will most likely hear it more often now that President Joe Biden nominated her to the Supreme Court. Jackson, 51, is the first Black female nominee to the high court. If Jackson is confirmed, she will fill the seat for Justice Stephen Breyer, who will be stepping down at the end of the court's current term.

Jackson married surgeon Patrick Jackson, in 1996. According to Newsweek, they have two daughters — Talia, 21, and Leila, 17. NPR reports that Patrick is a "star in the surgical world." He practices at Pasquerilla Healthcare Center, specializing in abdominal surgeries (via Medstar Health). Patrick is the first one to "toot his wife's horn," and he loves to watch his wife work. He was reportedly "fascinated" by Ketanji's work as a federal judge and would often sit in the back of the courtroom to watch her work, per NPR.

Law and public speaking run deep in Ketanji Brown Jackson's blood

Ketanji Brown Jackson's interest in law goes back a long way. According to an Associated Press report posted by the Las Vegas Sun, when she was in preschool, her father, Johnny Brown, was in law school, and she would sit at the table and color in her coloring books while her father studied his law books. Her father became an attorney for the Miami-Dade County School board, per WFTV. Jackson was a "speech and debate star" in high school, per White House. She was elected "mayor" of Palmetto Junior High and student body president of Miami Palmetto Senior High School. She also won the national oratory title at the National Catholic Forensic League Championships in 1988 (via WFTV).

Ketanji studied law at Harvard College, from which she graduated in 1992. In 1996 she received her degree from Harvard Law School where she was an editor of the law review, per Newsweek. Former high school classmate Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University, told the Miami Herald that Ketanji was a "star in the making" (via WFTV).

Ketanji Brown Jackson was a clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer

Ketanji Brown Jackson actually knows a little bit about the man she may replace in the high court, because she served as clerk for him. In a 2020 virtual conference, she said Justice Stephen Breyer "opened doors of opportunities" not only through his decisions, but who he hired as law clerks. "As a descendant of slaves," Jackson added, "let me just say that, Justice (Breyer), your thoughtfulness in that regard has made a world of difference" (per Reuters).

Fellow clerks noted that Ketanji shared Breyer's genuine nature and warmth with how she saw the world along with her belief in the good will of other people, the Boston Globe reported. She was also able to keep her cool when other clerks would lose their temper. Kermit Roosevelt III, who clerked for Justice David Souter when Ketanji clerked for Breyer, told the Globe that Ketanji was "calm, level-headed, not ideologically driven. She was one of the sensible ones who was willing to compromise."

Ketanji Brown Jackson's career is steeped in law

Ketanji Brown Jackson is currently serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. According to Newsweek, President Joe Biden nominated her for the role, and the Senate confirmed the nomination in June 2021, with a bipartisan vote of 53 to 44.

Before becoming a judge on the D.C. Circuit, Ketanji served as a trial judge from 2013 to 2021, according to U.S. Court of Appeals. She also worked at Morrison & Foerster LLP, and before that was an assistant Federal Public Defender in the District of Columbia. Her experience also includes serving as the Assistant Special Counsel at the Sentencing Commission. Before serving as a clerk for Judge Breyer, she clerked for Judge Bruce Selya of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Ketanji Brown Jackson's service as a public defender shaped her role as a trial judge

Ketanji Brown Jackson's past service as a public defender helped her become a better judge. During her 2021 confirmation hearing, Jackson recalled that while serving as a public defender, her clients often did not know about the legal process. She said as a trial judge, she made the effort to educate them about what was happening and why. "I think that's really important for our entire justice system because it's only if people understand what they've done, why it's wrong, and what will happen to them if they do it again that they can really start to rehabilitate," she said, according to SCOTUSblog.

It may have also shaped her sense of fairness. Elizabeth Wydra, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, told CNN that Ketanji has "an understanding of how the law affects people based on both her professional and lived experiences, and a powerful commitment to equal justice."

Ketanji Brown Jackson has a sense of humor

Law might be a serious matter, but that does not mean Ketanji Brown Jackson doesn't have a lighter side. NPR reports that while Ketanji served as a trial judge, she became known for her "infectious and raucous laugh." When at University of Georgia, she displayed her sense of humor when discussing the "whiplash" she feels from the different roles in life. In the courtroom, she said that "people generally treat me with respect ... and I control what happens in my courtroom." However, it's a different story with her teenage daughters. "My daughters make it very clear that as far as they are concerned, I know nothing and should not tell them anything, much less, give them any orders — that is if they talk to me at all."

At an 2017 event, Ketanji also joked about how she got to witness another side of Justice Breyer that many don't get to see. She said while clerking for him, she would often catch him showing up to his chamber in "full bicycle regalia" after riding his bike to work, per CNN.