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Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman on the Supreme Court

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She was chosen by President Joe Biden to become the first black woman on the Supreme Court of the United States: Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in on Thursday to occupy this post of judge for life, thus replacing the liberal Stephen Breyer who takes his retirement at the end of June.

She is the first African-American magistrate to join America’s highest court. Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in on Thursday, June 30, to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. A post of judge for life that she will occupy in replacement of the liberal Stephen Breyer, who retired at the end of June.

The US Senate had proceeded, on April 7, to the historic confirmation of this brilliant 51-year-old lawyer. The magistrate was chosen at the end of February by Democratic President Joe Biden, who had promised during his campaign to appoint, for the first time, a black woman to the highest judicial institution in the country, 233 years old.

Depicted by Republicans as a “lax” judge, a syndrome of Joe Biden’s “leftist politics”, her supporters praise her experience and the support she has with police unions and former prosecutors.

An unprecedented past as a defense lawyer

Because Ketanji Brown Jackson is far from being just a symbol. This jurist, married to a surgeon and mother of two children, graduated from the prestigious Harvard Law School with honors.

She worked as an aide to Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court justice she will replace, and until now served on the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia, “which is considered the second most prestigious court in the country after the Supreme Court because of the importance of the cases dealt with there”, recalls the site Scotusblog, devoted to the news of the Supreme Court – “Scotus” meaning “Supreme Court of the United States”.

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Such are in any case its letters of legal nobility. But Ketanji Brown Jackson also took professional paths that none of his future Supreme Court colleagues followed. She served for two years as a court-appointed lawyer and was also a sentence enforcement judge.

“Most lawyers considering a career in the highest levels of the judiciary prefer to go through the prosecutor’s office because they know that politicians tend to support those on the side of law enforcement rather than those on the side of law enforcement. defense lawyers, who often find themselves pleading the case of criminals,” explains the American news site Vox. And “she was not afraid to help clients that others avoided at all costs,” notes the New York Times.

The experience of reality

For many commentators, it is this particular career choice rather than his skin color that makes Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination so interesting. “She will have more experience of the reality of the application of criminal sentences than all the other justices of the Supreme Court put together”, sums up the Los Angeles Times.

It was these few years spent defending criminals or deciding on the sanction to be applied that the Republicans peeled to try to destabilize Ketanji Brown Jackson during the hearings last March. He was thus accused of having defended a Guantanamo detainee sixteen years ago. Ketanji Brown Jackson was accused of siding with the US as ‘enemy combatants’, to which she replied that the case had been assigned to her and anyone had the right to the best defense possible .

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Several Republican senators suggested she had a soft spot for pedophiles because she had “often handed down lesser sentences” than the maximum provided by law for individuals possessing child pornography images. But several media, including conservatives, noted that an overwhelming majority of American judges did the same. “It’s worthy of QAnon [le groupe conspirationniste pro-Trump qui est persuadé qu’une secte sataniste et pédophile dirige les États-Unis]“, reacted last March on Twitter Andrew Batesa White House spokesman.

But what does it matter to the Republicans, NPR radio had then underlined. Aware that they could not prevent the appointment of the first black woman to the Supreme Court, they were able to send a key message to them, namely that the Democrats supported a judge “who would be tough on criminals” . After all, the midterm elections are only a few months away.

Historical appointment

With the choice of Ketanji Brown Jackson, it is not for Joe Biden to move the political lines in the Supreme Court, currently very marked on the right with six conservative judges out of nine.

The issue of his taking office is both highly symbolic while being politically very important for the American president, who had made the appointment of a black woman to the Supreme Court one of his campaign promises in June. 2020.

It is also a historic event for the Supreme Court, which remains one of the most “wasp” institutions (“white Anglo-Saxon Protestant”, that is to say in the image of the white pioneer Protestant who embodies the ruling class since the founding of the United States) from all over the country. In more than 200 years of existence, this body has hosted 120 judges, of whom 115 were men and 117 were white.

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The first African-American judge – Thurgood Marshall – served from 1967 until 1991, when he was replaced by Clarence Thomas, another judge of color, who proved to be very conservative.

This post is an updated version of the Ketanji Brown portrait, published on March 24, 2022.

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