The steady browning effect that the Biden administration has had on the federal bench continued in a historic fashion on Monday when the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Not only will Jackson be only the third Black woman to serve on the Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit, but the confirmation could also serve as a segue to her eventual nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court if history is any indication. The fact that Jackson’s confirmation came amid a push for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to step down only made the development on Capitol Hill that much more intriguing. Breyer will turn 83 in August.
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), underscored the significance of Jackson becoming only the ninth Black woman to ever hold a seat on the federal appellate bench.
“This is critically important because ensuring that the judiciary is reflective of this country’s diversity safeguards its legitimacy and integrity – and fosters the veritable provision of justice undergirded by fairness and equality,” Ifill said in a statement emailed to NewsOne.
Jackson, who was also once a clerk for Breyer, has served as a judge for the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia since 2013. In more evidence that Jackson is needed on the federal bench now, Jackson used to be vice-chairperson for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, working to reduce penalties for crack cocaine — the same drug for which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that low-level offenders convicted more than a decade ago can’t take advantage of a 2018 federal law to seek reduced prison time.
Jackson’s appointment likely also took on an additional air of urgency for some Democrats who took umbrage to Republican and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing he would not support any Biden pick for the Supreme Court in 2024, when Republicans are hoping to regain control of the U.S. Senate.
It was in that context that New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), who holds major sway in the Democratic Party, on Monday lent her endorsement to the movement for Breyer to step down. When asked during an appearance on CNN if she thought Breyer should retire at the end of the current Supreme Court term this month or next, AOC spoke in no uncertain terms.
“I — it’s something I would think about, but I would probably lean towards yes,” she said.
One of Joe Biden‘s repeated campaign promises made leading up to the 2020 election was to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if an opening came about during his presidency.
But that wasn’t the only thing working in Jackson’s favor to possibly get nominated to the Supreme Court if Breyer steps down. The late Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia along with current U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland — who former President Barack Obama unsuccessfully nominated for the SCOTUS — are both alumni of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as are three other sitting Supreme Court Judges: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.
Based on those facts, if Biden does get the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice, chances are more than likely it’ll be Jackson — the only Black woman who will be serving on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Jackson’s confirmation came nearly one week after the Senate confirmed another Biden judicial nominee, Julien Xavier Neals, to the U.S. District Court of New Jersey. He and Jackson are among the five Black judges who were nominated by the Biden administration in an effort to reshape the courts. The other three — Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, Judge Tiffany Cunningham and Judge Lydia Griggsby — all await a Senate confirmation vote.