The Thursday Politics Thread Ascends

Mornin’ Politocadoes!

The Honorable Ketanji Brown-Jackson will officially join the Supreme Court today. Justice Stephen Breyer notified President Biden yesterday of his intention to end his tenure today and Brown-Jackson is ready to be sworn in as of noon. Brown-Jackson will be the first female African-American, and the first federal public defender, to ever be a Supreme Court Justice.

Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Miami, she is the daughter of Johnny Brown, a chief attorney for the Miami-Dade county school board and Ellery, a school principal for New World For The Arts. Always interested in pursuing a legal career, she signed her yearbook with a quote indicating she wanted to go into law and potentially become a judge. At Harvard ( though her guidance counselor had told her to lower her expectations), she led protests sparked by another student hanging a Confederate flag from his dorm window. It was also during this period that her uncle, Thomas Brown Jr., was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent cocaine conviction (a sentence President Obama would later commute). She graduated in 1992, with her thesis being on plea bargaining and the coercion of criminal defendants.

For a time, she worked as a staff reporter and researcher at Time, then attended Harvard Law School and becoming a supervising editor for the Harvard Law Review. After law school she clerked for Patti Saris in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts. She then clerked for her future predecessor Stephen Breyer at the Supreme Court from 1997-2000. After some time in private practice, she served as assistant special counsel for the United States Sentencing Commission. From 2005-2007 she worked as a Federal Public Defender, with reviews from the Washington Post saying “she won uncommon victories against the government that shortened or erased lengthy prison terms”.

In 2009, President Obama nominated her to be Vice Chair of the US Sentencing Commission. During that time, the Commission amended sentencing guidelines for Crack Cocaine offenses. In 2012, President Obama nominated Brown-Jackson to serve as Judge for the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia. She was introduced at her confirmation hearings by then-Representative Paul Ryan, a relative through marriage. In 2021, she was nominated and approved to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

During the Trump administration, she would force such people as Don McGahn to comply with a legislative subpoena, noting that “Presidents are not Kings.” In American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO v. Trump, Jackson struck down parts of three executive orders that would have limited contact between federal employee labor union officials and union members, what issues the unions could bargain over in negotiations, and the rights of disciplined workers to appeal disciplinary actions.

And, more salient given recent developments, In April and June 2018, Jackson presided over cases challenging the Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to terminate grants for teen pregnancy prevention programs two years early. Jackson ruled that the decision to terminate the grants early had been arbitrary and capricious given that there had been no explanation given.

Put all together, Ketanji Brown-Jackson sounds like someone who believes in justice. True justice. It’s a shame that she’s entering a court where it’s clearly become two ideological blocks. I would love to see her shape the court into something a little more just. What she brings to the table is going to be undermined by a Conservative majority that seems utterly uninterested in even pretending to be fair-minded at this point. Yet, she brings something new to the table and I’m looking forward to all of the dissents she will author and all of the opinions she will likely prevail on.

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