By JESSICA GRESKO
WASHINGTON (AP) — If Ketanji Brown Jackson were nominated and confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she would make history several times over. She’d be the court’s first black female justice. Her confirmation would mean that for the first time four women would sit on the nine-member court. And it would mean two black justices would be sitting together for the first time.
As a nominee, Jackson also would have the advantage of a connection to Republicans, who have vowed not to confirm anyone nominated by President Barack Obama. She is related by marriage to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
As a House member, Ryan doesn’t have any official say in the Senate’s confirmation of Supreme Court justices. But when Jackson was nominated to be a federal judge in the District of Columbia in 2012, Ryan introduced her at her Senate hearing and called her “clearly qualified.”
“Now, our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, for her integrity, it is unequivocal. She is an amazing person, and I favorably recommend your consideration,” he said.
Jackson also has one qualification common to court members: She’s a graduate of Harvard University and attended Harvard Law School, as five current justices did. At 45, she is younger than most members of the current court were when they joined the bench. Only Clarence Thomas, who joined the court at 43 and is the court’s only current black justice, was younger.
One wrinkle in any potential nomination may be that Jackson currently is a judge in district court, the lowest-level federal court. Seven of the eight current justices, all but Elena Kagan, had been on appeals courts, one level below the Supreme Court, before being elevated.
Jackson also has been a judge for only three years, a fact that could be a benefit because it means she doesn’t have a vast paper trail. But it could also lead to charges that she isn’t experienced enough. Obama first nominated Jackson to be a federal judge in 2012. She was ultimately confirmed in 2013 on a voice vote, so no tally of votes was recorded.
Already, several of her rulings have made news. In 2013, she ruled against the meat-packing industry in a lawsuit over government labeling requirements, a ruling that was later upheld on appeal. In 2014, she ruled against environmental groups who wanted to halt construction of a pipeline transporting oil from Illinois to Oklahoma. Also in 2014, she ruled against the government and allowed a nonprofit pro-Israel group to proceed with its discrimination lawsuit against the IRS.