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Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as Supreme Court justice

July 1, 2022

With a track record for challenging abuses of presidental power, Ketanji Brown Jackson joins a diverse and divided US Supreme Court.

Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation process was the shortest in US historyImage: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ketanji Brown Jackson made history on Thursday when she was sworn in as the first Black woman to serve on the US Supreme Court.

Her appointment marks a major milestone for the top court and the Biden administration.

Jackson's "historic swearing in today represents a profound step forward for our nation, for all the young, Black girls who now see themselves reflected on our highest court, and for all of us as Americans," US President Joe Biden said in a statement.

At the ceremony, the 51-year-old justice spoke only to recite the two oaths required for her swearing in and to thank her new colleagues.

"I am truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great nation. I extend my sincerest thanks to all of my new colleagues for their warm and gracious welcome,'' Jackson said.

The new makeup of the Supreme Court 

Jackson arrives at her Supreme Court seat with around two dozen cases and hundreds of appeals. During her tenure, she will make decisions on important cases that could include the role of race in college admissions, gun control and voting rights in the country. 

With the new justice's appointment, the court becomes more diverse, in terms of gender and race, than at any other point in US history.

There have only ever been two other African American Supreme Court justices in US history — Thurgood Marshall, who served from 1967 to 1991, and acting Justice Clarence Thomas. Jackson also joins three other women: Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett. It is the first time four women will serve together on the nine-member court.

Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. Seated from left: Alito, Thomas, Roberts, Breyer and Sotomayor; standing from left: Kavanaugh, Kagan, Gorsuch and Coney Barrett.
Ketanji Brown Jackson replaces Justice Stephen Breyer (front row, fourth from the left)Image: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

The top court, which is dominated by a 6-3 conservative majority, recently issued a ruling that rolled back abortion rights in the US.

Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the civil rights group Advancement Project, said Jackson was "joining the court at a time when conservatives are holding the line and trying to actually take us back, because they see the progress that's being made in our country. It's like the Civil War that never ended. That's the court that she's joining." 

"She's going to forever reshape and shape that court," said Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights for America, an organization that advocates for the growth of Black women's political power. "But she's just a piece of the work that needs to happen moving forward.''

Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson?

Raised in Miami, Florida, Jackson studied law at Harvard University. She launched her legal career as a law clerk under former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she officially replaced after her swearing in. 

Jackson was nominated by Biden for the position in February, a month after Breyer, 83, announced his retirement.

Jackson had served since 2013 as judge for the US District Court in Washington, D.C. During her tenure, she took a hard line on the Trump administration.

In one of her most high-profile decisions, she ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before Congress to face questions about former US President Donald Trump, who had sought to prevent his aides from testifying. "[T]he primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that presidents are not kings," Jackson wrote.

She explained her position to mean that the US legal system is designed to check power. "Our constitutional scheme, the design of our government is erected to prevent tyranny," she said.

asw/nm (AP, AFP)