Hey Siri, why is it significant for this old white man to retire?

Why is a seat up for grabs?

On January 27, 2022, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen Breyer wrote a letter to President Joe Biden regarding his decision to retire. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer was appointed by former President Clinton in 1994 and for Breyer to retire is a huge deal. Since a Supreme Court Justice is appointed for life in accordance with the U.S. Constitution it is not unusual for a seat to be filled because a justice has passed away.

With the current court consisting of a large conservative majority, three liberal justices, and six conservative justices, many have called for Justice Breyer to retire during Joe Biden’s Presidency. If Breyer retires now, it will ensure that he is replaced by a justice who shares his ideology.

Who gets to fill this seat? The President! (sorta)

On February 25, 2022, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the 116th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

For context, when the Supreme Court has a vacant seat, the current President nominates someone to fill that seat. From there the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing to assess the nominee’s fitness and character through the nominee’s testimony and the committee member’s questions. After the committee votes, it traditionally refers the nomination to the full Senate for consideration where there must be a simple majority, 51 votes, for the nominee to be confirmed.

Who is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, but she was a prevalent legal figure long before this. If confirmed, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first black woman to serve on the highest court of the United States of America.

President Joe Biden and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden’s Supreme Court Nominee.
Image Source: https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse/status/1497377403726925824 

Professional Experience:

Justice Jackson has an extensive list of experience, including serving as a Supreme Court Clerk for her mentor Justice Breyer, whose seat she is now nominated to fill. During her remarks at her Nomination, she said, “Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat, but please know that I could never fill your shoes.” After that experience, Judge Jackson was a public defender and if she is appointed, she will be the “first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.” Next, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson worked on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and in 2009, Former President Obama nominated her “to serve as the Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2009, and she was confirmed with bipartisan support in 2010.” Following this, in 2013 Judge Jackson was appointed by Former President Obama to be a Judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Most recently, in 2021, Judge Jackson was nominated by President Biden, and “… she was confirmed with bipartisan support to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2021.”

The Significance of Judge Jackson’s Nomination:

If appointed, Judge Jackson will be the first black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court. Along with that, she will be the third black Justice and the sixth female Justice. In the total makeup of the current supreme court, Judge Jackson’s addition would raise the number of active female justices to four out of nine, an unprecedented number. This addition brings the court one step closer to fulfilling the wishes of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who famously stated that there would be enough women on the Supreme Court “when there are nine.” Additionally, if appointed, Judge Jackson will raise the number of non-white Supreme Court Justices to the highest it has ever been at one time, three.

Historic appointments that diversified The Court:

  • Black Justices: Thurgood Marshall (1967), Clarence Thomas (1991).
  • Female Justices: Sandra Day O’Connor (1981), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1993), Sonia Sotomayor (2009), Elena Kagan (2010), Amy Coney Barrett (2020). 
  • Hispanic Justices: Sonia Sotomayor (2009).

Ultimately, despite these changes, the Supreme Court still fails to resemble the American Population. This is significant because the demographics of our population that have not been represented are often those most affected by the rulings of our Supreme Court. In order to change this, we need to appoint justices who are both qualified and improve the diversity of the court, which means the appointment of Judge Jackson would be another step in the right direction.

Left: 1976 Supreme Court Justices; Right: Current Supreme Court Justices  
Left Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Supreme_Court_1976.png
Right Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Supreme_Court_of_the_United_States_-_Roberts_Court_2020.jpg

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