May 2022

A Supreme First


Ketanji Brown Jackson accepts her nomination to the Supreme Court.

As we move through history, there don’t seem to be many “firsts” left. The first known author published her work more than 4,000 years ago. The first to sail around the world did so in 1522. The first to fly an airplane around the world completed the journey in 1924. But, a new first in history did occur as recently on April 7, 2022. Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the first African American female justice on the United States Supreme Court.

Ketanji Onyika Brown was born on September 14, 1970, in Washington, D.C. Her parents gave her the names Ketanji Onyika, meaning “lovely one,” to honor the family’s African heritage. When she was a young girl, her family moved to Miami, Florida. There, she attended Miami Palmetto Senior High School, serving as class president.

After high school, she attended Harvard University. While there she met her husband, Patrick Jackson. She graduated from Harvard Law School in 1996. She married Jackson that same year. Together they have two daughters—Talia and Leila.

After law school, Ketanji Brown Jackson went to work for Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer. Interestingly, Jackson will be replacing Justice Breyer. Jackson also has been a defense lawyer and a judge. Most recently, she served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. This court is considered second only to the Supreme Court in importance.

On February 25, 2022, President Joe Biden nominated, or selected, Jackson to fill Justice Breyer’s seat on the Supreme Court. Breyer had announced his retirement from the court in January 2022. Historically, Supreme Court seats have opened-up in one of two ways—the retirement of a justice or the death of a justice.

Once a person has been nominated, it’s the job of the United States Senate to confirm, or approve, that person for service on the court. During the confirmation process, the 22 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee question the nominee to determine their qualifications for the job. Those 22 senators then vote to approve the nominee for a confirmation vote by the whole U.S. Senate.

The United States Constitution does not outline any qualifications for Supreme Court Justices. However, all previous justices have been lawyers or trained in the law. The American Bar Association (ABA)–the largest lawyer’s organization in the U.S.—gave Jackson a “highly qualified” rating. Ultimately, the U.S. Senate agreed, voting 53 to 47 to confirm Jackson.

Ketanji Brown Jackson will join Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Sonia Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas on the court. Supreme Court Justices serve for life.

Credit: ©Cameron Smith/White House
Question 1
Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the first—

Question 2
Supreme Court Justices serve a ______ term.

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