How Ketanji Brown Jackson Differs From Other Supreme Court Justices

The Senate Judiciary Committee will on Monday begin historic confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court.

Jackson is expected to deliver an opening statement late on Monday, before answering questions from the committee over the next two days.

Her testimony will give many Americans their most detailed look at a nominee with a legal background that includes a stint as a federal public defender—a role that none of the current justices has on their resume.

But in many ways, Jackson had a similar education and career path to the court's other justices, before President Joe Biden nominated her to take the seat of Justice Stephen Breyer, who has announced he will retire this summer.

All of the sitting justices except Justice Amy Coney Barrett attended an Ivy League law school.

Jackson graduated from Harvard Law School, as did Breyer, John Roberts, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch, while Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Brett Kavanaugh studied at Yale Law School.

Jackson, like six of the current justices, began her career as a legal clerk—fittingly, she clerked for Breyer.

She and all the sitting judges except for Kagan have served as appellate court judges before being nominated to the Supreme Court.

Jackson was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year, but prior to that, she spent eight years as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after being nominated by former President Barack Obama. Sotomayor is the only sitting justice who also served as a judge in the trial or district courts.

If confirmed, Jackson would be the first Supreme Court justice with significant experience in criminal defense since Thurgood Marshall, who was the first Black American to serve on the court.

She worked from 2005 to 2007 as an assistant public defender in Washington, D.C., which saw her represent low-income defendants in criminal cases and detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.

Jackson's confirmation would also see her as the sole justice on the court with experience on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency created by Congress to reduce sentencing disparities.

'Well Qualified' to Serve

She worked as an assistant special counsel there between 2003 and 2005. Obama nominated her to serve as vice chair of the commission in 2009 and she was confirmed with bipartisan support the following year. Breyer is the only current justice with prior experience on the Sentencing Commission, where he served between 1985 and 1989.

The American Bar Association gave Jackson its highest rating on Friday, with its Standing Committee unanimously deeming her "well qualified" to serve on the Supreme Court.

And last week, Black students at Jackson's alma mater, Harvard Law School, told Newsweek that she would better represent them than Thomas, the sole Black justice currently on the court.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson poses for photographs in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images