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Mon, 09.14.1970

Ketanji Brown Jackson, Lawyer, and Judge born

Ketanji Brown Jackson

*Ketanji Brown Jackson was born on this date in 1970. She is a Black attorney and a federal judge.

Ketanji Onyika Brown was born in Washington, D.C. Her parents graduated from historically black colleges and universities. Her father, Johnny Brown, ultimately became the Miami-Dade County School Board; her mother, Ellery, served as school principal at New World School of the Arts. Jackson grew up in Miami, Florida, and graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High School in 1988.

After high school, Jackson studied government at Harvard University, graduating in 1992. When she was in college, her uncle was sentenced to life in prison due to a nonviolent cocaine conviction. Years later, Jackson persuaded a law firm to take his case pro bono, and President Barack Obama eventually commuted his sentence. Another uncle served as Miami's police chief. Jackson led protests against a student who displayed a Confederate flag from his dorm window during her time at Harvard. She also performed improv comedy and took classes in drama.

Jackson worked as a staff reporter and researcher for Time magazine from 1992 to 1993, then attended Harvard Law School, where she was a supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review. She graduated in 1996 with a Juris Doctor cum laude. In 1996, Jackson married surgeon Patrick G. Jackson, a sixth-generation Harvard graduate. The couple has two daughters. Patrick Jackson's twin brother is the brother-in-law of Janna Ryan, wife of former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.


After law school, Jackson served as a law clerk to Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts from 1996 to 1997, then to Judge Bruce M. Selya of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit from 1997 to 1998. She spent a year in private practice at the Washington, D.C. law firm Miller Cassidy Larroca & Lewin (now part of Baker Botts), then clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1999 to 2000. Jackson worked in private legal practice from 2000 to 2003. From 2003 to 2005, she served as an assistant special counsel to the United States Sentencing Commission.

From 2005 to 2007, Jackson was an assistant federal public defender in Washington, D.C., handling cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. A Washington Post review of cases Jackson handled as a public defender showed that "she won uncommon victories against the government that shortened or erased lengthy prison terms." From 2007 to 2010, Jackson was an appellate specialist at Morrison & Foerster. On July 23, 2009, Jackson nominated her to become vice-chair of the United States Sentencing Commission. Jackson confirmed her by unanimous consent on February 11, 2010.

During her time on the commission, it retroactively amended the Sentencing Guidelines to reduce the guideline range for crack cocaine offenses. It enacted the "drugs minus two" amendment, implementing a two-offense-level reduction for drug crimes. On September 20, 2012, Obama nominated Jackson to serve as a judge for the United States district court for the District of Columbia in the seat vacated by retiring Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. On February 14, 2013, her nomination was reported to the full Senate by voice vote. The full Senate confirmed her by voice vote on March 22, 2013. She received her commission on March 26 and was sworn in by Justice Breyer in May 2013.

During her time on the District Court, Jackson wrote multiple decisions adverse to the positions of the Trump administration. In her opinion ordering President Trump's former White House counsel Donald McGahn to comply with a legislative subpoena, she wrote, "Presidents are not kings." Jackson handled several challenges to executive agency actions that raised administrative law questions. She also issued rulings in several cases that gained political attention.  

Bloomberg Law reported in the spring of 2021 that conservative activists were pointing to certain decisions by Jackson that had been reversed on appeal as a "potential blemish on her record." In 2019, Jackson ruled that provisions in three Trump executive orders conflicted with federal employee rights to collective bargaining. Her decision was reversed unanimously by the D.C. Circuit. Another 2019 decision was reversed by the D.C. Circuit, involving a challenge to a Department of Homeland Security decision to expand the agency's definition of which noncitizens could be deported. Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, defended Jackson's record, saying Jackson "has written nearly 600 opinions and been reversed [fewer] than twelve times."  

President Biden nominated Jackson to the seat vacated by Judge Merrick Garland, who stepped down to become attorney general. On April 28, 2021, a hearing on her nomination was held before the Senate Judiciary Committee. During her confirmation hearing, Jackson was questioned about several of her rulings against the Trump administration.  On June 14, 2021, the United States Senate confirmed Jackson's 53–44 vote. She received her judicial commission on June 17, 2021.

Jackson's first decision as a court of appeals judge invalidated a 2020 rule by the Federal Labor Relations Authority that had restricted the bargaining power of federal-sector labor unions. After Breyer announced his retirement in January 2022, President Joe Biden declared his intent to nominate a Black woman as the next justice of the Court, honoring his promise during the 2020 Democratic primaries. On February 25, 2022, Biden announced he would nominate Jackson to the Supreme Court.

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