President Joe Biden on Tuesday tapped Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Merrick Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Jackson, an Obama appointee, has sat since 2013 on the U.S. District Court for D.C. Her elevation comes on the heels of intense prodding from liberal activists for Biden to nominate a black woman to fill Garland’s seat.
Jackson is among 11 nominations announced Tuesday, as Biden, a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, seeks to dilute the judicial legacy of former President Donald Trump, under whose administration confirmation of conservative judges was a key priority.
Garland created the vacancy when the Senate confirmed him in a 70-30 vote to become Biden’s attorney general.
Jackson’s name has circulated among Democratic leaders for several years. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, then-President Barack Obama put Jackson on his short list of replacements. Obama nominated Garland instead, a move which ended in disaster when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the process from proceeding until after the 2016 election. Trump, upon taking office, nominated and saw through the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch instead.
Garland’s nomination left some court activists disappointed because Obama had not used his final Supreme Court pick to elevate a minority woman, as he had done by choosing the Latina Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
If the Senate confirms Jackson, court reform advocates hope that Biden will eventually nominate her to the Supreme Court should Justice Stephen Breyer retire. The move would not be unusual. The D.C. appeals court, nicknamed “unofficial farm team for the Supreme Court,” has produced three sitting Supreme Court justices: Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas. Scalia and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also sat on the court.
Biden, on the campaign trail, promised that if given the chance to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, he would pick a black woman. That choice received much praise at the time, but it limited Biden’s choices. There are only four black women on federal appeals courts, the pool from which most Supreme Court justices are pulled — and all of them are 65 years or older.
Jackson, at 50, presents a relatively young option for Biden. Her resume also fits the bill for the high court. Jackson is a Harvard Law School graduate, where she edited the Harvard Law Review. She clerked for Breyer upon graduation.
While on the D.C. District Court, Jackson raised her profile through her involvement in a series of cases related to the Trump administration. In 2019, she ruled that White House counsel Don McGahn had to testify in the House’s Russia investigation. The year before, she struck down parts of a Trump executive order which made it easier for federal agencies to fire workers for bad performance. Jackson is currently presiding over a defamation case filed by the Trump campaign against the Washington Post.
Jackson has also ruled in a number of high-profile local Washington, D.C., cases, most notably a criminal case related to the Pizzagate conspiracy. In that case, Jackson sentenced a man who fired a gun at Comet Ping-Pong in Northwest D.C. to four years in prison. The shooter claimed that he was investigating an alleged sex slavery ring run by top Democratic officials.
Jackson’s nomination comes as a growing number of retiring federal judges gives Biden a chance to cut down the conservative judicial majorities Trump built up during his tenure.