POLITICS

Senate Confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson To Powerful D.C. Circuit Court

She's the ninth Black woman to ever become a federal appeals court judge.

The Senate voted Monday to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, making her ninth Black woman ever to serve as a federal appeals court judge.

Senators voted 53-44 to confirm Jackson to a lifetime seat on the court that’s considered second only to the U.S. Supreme Court in terms of the power it wields over constitutional and administrative law. The D.C. Circuit’s jurisdiction covers Congress and many federal government agencies.

Only three Republicans joined Democrats in supporting Jackson: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Jackson, 50, has been a U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C., since 2013. When the Senate confirmed her to that post, it was by a unanimous vote.

For some context on the significance of Jackson’s Monday confirmation, in the 230-year history of the U.S. courts, there has been a total of 836 federal appeals court judges, according to Federal Judicial Center data. Only nine of them have been Black women, including Jackson.

Jackson has been floated as President Joe Biden’s potential Supreme Court pick if a vacancy opens up on that court. Biden has vowed to make his first Supreme Court nominee a Black woman, and the D.C. Circuit has been a launchpad for several Supreme Court justices.

Of the nine justices currently on the high court, three were previously on the D.C. Circuit: John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh. Former Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia also jumped from the D.C. Circuit to the Supreme Court.

Progressive judicial advocacy groups like Demand Justice have been strongly advocating for Jackson, because of the badly needed diversity she will bring to the federal bench. In addition to being one of few Black women to be confirmed as a federal appeals court judge, Jackson is the ninth public defender ever to land the job.

“Judge Jackson’s confirmation will mark the beginning of a new era for a court system that Trump and McConnell have stacked in favor of the rich and powerful,” said Chris Kang, chief counsel for Demand Justice. “Our judiciary has been dominated by former corporate lawyers and prosecutors for too long, and Judge Jackson’s experience as a public defender makes her a model for the type of judge President Biden and Senate Democrats should continue to prioritize.”

Ironically, Jackson previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whom groups like Demand Justice are urging to retire so Biden can fill his seat with a Democrat-backed nominee.

Democrats control the Senate for now, but that could change after the 2022 elections, and progressive groups are worried that if Breyer doesn’t step down soon, there could be a repeat of what happened in 2016. 

That was when Republicans controlled the Senate and blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland for nearly a year, in order to hold a Supreme Court seat open for a future Republican president. That turned out to be Donald Trump, and he filled that seat with Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Breyer, whom former President Bill Clinton nominated in 1994, has given no indication that he is prepared to step down.