Supreme Court: Ketanji Brown Jackson Steps Up as Breyer Steps Down

Ketanji Brown Jackson is making history as the first Black woman to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Jackson, 51, was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Miami. The Harvard Law graduate previously served as a judge on the federal Appeals Court for the District of Columbia. 

Florida International University law professor Kerri Stone says Jackson is recognized as one of the greatest legal minds of her generation and a great source of representation for people of color and for the South Florida community.

“Ketanji Brown Jackson has already been living a life and building a legacy as a jurist that make her a source of pride for South Floridians,” said Stone, who teaches at the Florida International University College of Law. “It is important to ensure that those who are served by the courts see themselves represented well by those who sit on them.

Florida International University Professor Kerri Stone. Photo courtesy of Kerri Stone.

Brown Jackson was nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a 53-47 vote in April when three Republican senators joined the Democrats.

The Supreme Court currently has a conservative majority. Brown Jackson joins the other two liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

“Judge Jackson’s confirmation was a historic moment for our nation,” wrote Biden in a tweet after the Senate voted to confirm her. “We’ve taken another step toward making our highest court reflect the diversity of America. She will be an incredible Justice, and I was honored to share this moment with her.”

After 27 years on the court, Justice Stephen Breyer officially stepped down on Thursday at noon in a letter to President Biden.

“It has been my great honor to participate as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the Rule of Law,” Breyer wrote. 

Brown Jackson worked as a law clerk for Breyer during the court’s 1999-2000 term.

Just before Breyer announced his retirement, Pew Research Center found that 54 percent of U.S. adults had a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court, with 44 percent having an unfavorable view. The favorable opinion number has declined 15 percentage points over the past three years.

Jackson is joining the court at a particularly contentious time, with Roe v. Wade overturned on June 24, denying a constitutional right to abortion. However, Jackson is expected to deliver similar opinions to Breyer.

“People should understand that Justice Jackson is replacing Justice Breyer, who seems to be somewhat ideologically aligned with her in several key respects. Based upon this, it is not likely that any new fracture lines or dramatic shifts will emerge,” said Stone.

Hundreds of anti-abortion and pro-choice protesters have surrounded the high court’s steps since the June 24 decision.

“The leak of the draft opinion earlier this year may well have engendered mistrust on and within the Court, which will pose challenges for all of the justices as well,” said Stone.

Stone asserts that Breyer’s time on the court was marked with sound and fair judgment.

“Refusing to cling rigidly to a singular ideology or approach, he had a policy and solution-oriented approach to legal questions that made his writing well-reasoned and sound,” said Stone.

Stone said that Breyer released notable arguments on the Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of various abortion bans, voting rights, gerrymandering and even repeated questioning of whether the death penalty amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

The Court released the last of its opinions for this term–-cases West Virginia v. EPA and Biden v. Texas–just hours before Breyer’s retirement. 

Other controversial opinions were recently released by the court, including a ruling on Thursday about climate change. Advocates say the decision stifles the Biden administration’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Representation on the Supreme Court by women and people of color remains scant and also within the nation’s overall judiciary system. Two Black men and five women – and just one woman of color before this newest jurist – are serving or have served on the court.

In a statement released yesterday after her swearing in, Jackson Brown wrote, “With a full heart, I accept the solemn responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and administering justice without fear or favor, so help me God. I am truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great Nation. I extend my sincerest thanks to all of my new colleagues for their warm and gracious welcome.”

Brown Jackson took two oaths on Thursday, a constitutional oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts and a judicial one administered by her former boss and mentor, Justice Breyer. The high court is planning a formal investiture for Brown Jackson in the fall.

Maya Washburn is a Caplin News DC bureau summer correspondent studying digital journalism with a concentration in criminal justice at the FIU Honors College. Her primary focus is reporting on previously untold stories, with her writing often involving investigations, underrepresented issues, crime, mental health, education, politics and more.