A New Benchmark for Bench Strength: President Biden Nominates First Black Female to the U.S. Supreme Court

On Friday, February 25, 2022, President Joseph Biden nominated D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. The commitment to nominate a Black woman to the Bench was one of President Biden’s key promises on the campaign trail in 2020.  If Jackson is confirmed, she will be the first Black female justice among the 115 justices who have served on the Court in its 232-year history.

Who is Judge Jackson?

Judge Jackson, who is 51 years old, was born in Washington D.C., grew up in Miami, Florida, and earned both her undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University. Her mother was a school principal and her father was a school system attorney. 

In addition to serving as a law clerk to Justice Breyer from 1999-2000, Judge Jackson has wide experience in the legal profession.  She has worked as an attorney in private practice; a federal public defender; a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission; a federal district court judge for the U.S. District Court (D.C.); and most recently, as a federal appellate judge appointed by President Biden last year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

On the Brink of a Watershed Moment in Judicial History

Fewer than 2% of the 3,843 people who have served as federal judges in the United States have been Black women.1  While the number of Black women appointed to the federal judiciary has inched along since the first—Judge Constance Baker Motley, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966—President Biden had begun swiftly diversifying feeder courts before today’s historic nomination.  Judge Jackson was already one of 11 Black women nominated by President Biden to federal judgeships since he took office.

In addition to becoming the only Black woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court, if confirmed Judge Jackson would represent another significant “first”:  she would be the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.  Only 1% of sitting circuit court judges have spent the majority of their careers as public defenders or within a legal aid setting.  More than 70% of all sitting appellate judges have spent the majority of their careers in private practice or as federal prosecutors.2

Advocates for greater diversity in the judiciary have commended the speed with which the Biden administration has filled openings on the federal bench with a goal of elevating women of color and judges with different professional backgrounds.

What’s Next?

With his nominee now identified, the president will seek the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court.  While the pending confirmation process will take place with the Senate split 50-50 between political parties, it is worth noting that Judge Jackson was confirmed to the appellate court last year with votes from Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Additional updates on this story will be available in the coming weeks as the nomination process occurs.

See Footnotes

1 Biographical Directory of Article III Federal Judges, 1789-present, maintained by the Federal Judicial Center.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.