Ketanji Brown Jackson Sworn In As Supreme Court Justice — First Black Woman In The Court’s History
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Topline

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson made history Thursday as the first Black woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice, as she was sworn into office immediately following the end of the court’s term and Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement.

Key Facts

Jackson was sworn in a few minutes after noon on Thursday in a small ceremony at the Supreme Court, directly after Breyer’s retirement from the court after more than 25 years became effective.

Chief Justice John Roberts administered the Constitutional oath of office to Jackson, and Breyer administered the second Judicial oath of office needed for her to be officially sworn in.

She was sworn in right after the Supreme Court wrapped up its term by issuing its final outstanding opinions, ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency is limited in its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and that the Biden administration can rescind the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy.

Roberts noted Thursday that a formal investiture ceremony for Jackson will take place in the fall, but being sworn in means she can begin her duties as a justice now.

Surprising Fact

In addition to becoming the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Jackson is also its first former public defender.

What To Watch For

Jackson’s first term on the court will include a number of major cases, including disputes on LGBTQ discrimination and religious liberty, voting rights and affirmative action in college admissions. Jackson has said she will at least partially recuse herself from the latter case, however, given her ties to Harvard University, which is one of the schools being sued. The court announced Thursday shortly before Jackson was sworn in that in addition to a voting rights case on Alabama’s redistricting maps, the court will also take up a lawsuit on the “independent state legislature doctrine” and North Carolina’s congressional maps. That voting rights case has particularly high stakes, as it could give state legislatures full control over their states’ voting rules—and make it easier to overturn election results if they so choose.

Key Background

Jackson was confirmed by the Senate to the Supreme Court in April in a 53-47 vote, and her ascension to the court fulfills President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to appoint its first Black female justice. The 51-year-old justice comes to the Supreme Court from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where she had served as a judge since last year following roles as a district court judge and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Breyer announced his impending retirement in January and paved the way for Jackson’s confirmation after coming under heavy pressure from the left, as Democrats urged the left-leaning justice to retire while the party controlled the White House and Senate and Biden’s preferred nominee could be confirmed.

Tangent

Jackson’s ascension to the Supreme Court comes at a turbulent moment for the institution, as public trust in the court has plunged amid a series of controversial rulings, most notably its decision last week to overturn Roe v. Wade. That decision, a draft opinion of which was leaked weeks ahead of the official ruling, has led Congress to approve increased security protection for Supreme Court justices in light of protests and threats against the court’s conservative majority. In addition to that decision, the 6-3 conservative court has also drawn criticism in recent weeks for rulings that rolled back gun control laws and the separation of church and state in schools.

Further Reading

Supreme Court Justice Breyer Retiring Thursday—And Ketanji Brown Jackson Will Be Immediately Sworn In (Forbes)

Senate Confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson To Supreme Court (Forbes)

Stephen Breyer To Retire: Supreme Court Justice’s Exit Opens A Seat For Biden—And A Political Battle (Forbes)

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