Who is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden's nominee to replace AG Garland on powerful DC Circuit Court?

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D.C. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Biden’s nominee to fill the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seat of newly minted Attorney General Merrick Garland, making her the most high-profile choice among the president’s first round of judicial nominations.

Jackson has long been touted in progressive circles as a potential candidate for elevation from her trial court post to an appeals court or even the Supreme Court.

If confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, she will join a bench that is considered the second-highest court in the land and has a long tradition of producing Supreme Court justices, including Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and many others. 

D.C. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Biden’s nominee to replace Attorney General Garland on the D.C. Circuit Court.
(Uscourts.gov)

Jackson comes with the kind of credentials seen in many nominees to appeals courts, including a law degree from Harvard Law School and a clerkship with Justice Stephen Breyer. She also clerked on the First Circuit before that and in the District of Massachusetts. 

She has experience in private practice, too, and was appointed to be the vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission in 2010. 

Jackson was nominated to the federal bench by former President Obama and confirmed in 2013. 

“She, like this whole package of nominees, is highly qualified and diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and experience,” Carl Tobias, the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond School of Law, said of Jackson. Tobias added that Jackson “has resolved many cases that resemble those on the DC Circuit and SCOTUS dockets” and “clerked for highly respected judges, including Justice Breyer and First Circuit Judge Bruce Selya.”

Her most high-profile opinion in her time there was in the case between the House Judiciary Committee and former White House Counsel Don McGahn. McGahn was ordered not to testify before the committee, despite a subpoena, by former President Trump, citing executive privilege. 

Jackson ruled for the committee, that McGahn could be forced to testify — but the ruling was appealed and is still pending before the D.C. Circuit bench Jackson will now seek to join. 

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“Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote in her ruling against McGahn. “This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

President Biden at the Major Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in New Castle, Delaware. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Jackson was lauded on Tuesday morning by Demand Justice, a liberal group run by former Hillary Clinton staffer dedicated to pushing progressive nominees and policies for the judiciary. 

“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a former public defender, an unflinching champion for justice, and Joe Biden’s nominee to the second highest court in the United States,” the group, which has become a high-profile advocate of packing the Supreme Court, said in a tweet. The tweet also included an ad with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., lauding Jackson’s “intellect” during a nomination hearing. 

Demand Justice included Jackson in a 2019 list of suggested Supreme Court nominees for Democratic presidential candidates. She was the only one from that list to make Biden’s first round of 11 judicial nominees, most of which were to lower courts.

But Republicans are expected to push back on Jackson, given the high-profile nature of her nomination. 

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“The left’s dark money network demanded judges who would rubber stamp their radical political agenda, and Biden is delivering,” Judicial Crisis Network President Carrie Severino told Fox News. “Like her former boss Justice Breyer, we can expect Jackson to be a down the line progressive, which is exactly why she was nominated. We’ll know soon whether moderate Senators like Joe Manchin are prepared to jam through radical liberals on bare party line votes.”

Manchin, D-W.Va., and fellow moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are not on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is evenly divided between parties but can still advance nominees to the Senate floor on a tied vote. They will, however, have an effective veto on Jackson or any of Biden’s other nominees should Republicans decide to uniformly oppose them, which will not necessarily be the case.

Nevertheless, progressives on Tuesday were happy with Biden’s selections of not only Jackson but several other judges to both district and circuit courts. 

“President Biden today set a new course to make our courts fairer with judges who will recognize the rights of all of us – not just the wealthy and powerful,” said Lena Zwarensteyn, the fair courts campaign senior director at the liberal Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We need judges who uphold all of our rights, including those of workers, immigrants, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people; health care access, reproductive freedom, voting rights, and more.”

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