Ketanji Brown Jackson, a daughter of educators, is Biden’s nominee for US Supreme Court


President Joe Biden on Friday named federal appeals court judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a daughter of public school teachers who has adjudicated education-related cases as a federal judge, as his choice to replace outgoing Justice Stephen G. Breyer to the United States Supreme Court. .

“It is an honor for me to introduce to the country the daughter of former public school teachers, a proven consensus seeker, an accomplished lawyer and a distinguished jurist of one of the most prestigious courts in the land,” said Biden during a ceremony at the White House.

Jackson said: “If I am lucky enough to be confirmed as the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, I can only hope that my life and my career, my love of this country and the Constitution , and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded, will inspire future generations of Americans.

Jackson, 51, would be the first black woman to serve on the court if confirmed. She has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 2021. A former law clerk to Breyer and an assistant federal public defender, she became a federal district judge in Washington in 2013, where she ruled on routine special education. cases and handled a few more high-profile school cases, involving teacher layoffs, federal funding for school pregnancy prevention programs, and the U.S. Department of Education’s higher education rules.

Like Breyer, Jackson’s father was a school district attorney.

Jackson was born in Washington, DC, where her parents worked as public school teachers. The family moved to Florida, where her father, Johnny Brown, enrolled in law school at the University of Miami, while her mother, Ellery Brown, pursued her career in education and became the principal of a public art high school in Miami. Dade County School District.

Jackson’s father would go on to become the district attorney for Miami-Dade County. This gives Jackson common ground with Breyer, whose own father was the San Francisco school board attorney for 40 years and whose experience had a subtle influence on his outlook on education affairs. the judge told Education Week..

In a 2019 speech, Jackson said, “When people ask me how I ended up getting into the legal profession, I often talk about how when I was in kindergarten I sat at the table from the dining room to do my “homework”. with my dad – he had all his law books stacked up, and I had all my coloring books stacked up – and when I think back to that time, there’s no doubt that my love of law started during that formative period. ”

Biden, at the White House ceremony, said Jackson’s parents “grew up segregated, but never gave up hope that their children would enjoy America’s true promise.”

Jackson praised her parents at the White House ceremony as role models for their work as educators and, for her father, as a lawyer. They were watching from their home in Miami, she said.

Jackson graduated in 1988 from Miami Palmetto Senior High School, where she excelled in speech and debate and was elected class president three times.

“It was my high school experience as a competitive speaker that taught me to lean on despite the odds – to stand firm in the face of challenges, to work hard, to be resilient, to strive for excellence, and to believe that everything is possible,” Jackson said in the 2019 speech.

The White House pointed out that when Jackson told her high school guidance counselor that she wanted to attend Harvard University, the counselor warned her that she shouldn’t aim “so high.”

Jackson graduated from Harvard College in 1992 and Harvard Law School in 1996. She is still listed as a member of the university’s Board of Overseers, an alumni panel that helps guide the institution. (The court challenged Harvard’s undergraduate admissions practices, and it’s unclear whether Jackson, if upheld, would recuse herself from that case.)

Jackson worked for Breyer during the 1999-2000 term, when the High Court ruled on two major education cases. One was Mitchell vs. Helms, continuing to lend certain educational materials, such as books, software, and computer equipment, to private faith-based schools under a federal program. The other was Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doewhich canceled student-led prayers before football games at a public high school in Texas.

Jackson worked as a federal public defender, private attorney and member of the US Sentencing Commission before President Barack Obama appointed her as a federal district judge in 2013.

She cleared a teacher’s long-running case about race and age bias.

Like most federal district judges, Jackson had to rule fairly frequently on cases brought under the main federal special education law and on employment discrimination cases involving educational institutions.

In a 2020 decision, Jackson allowed the race and age discrimination claims of a District of Columbia biology professor fired 11 years earlier to stand trial, even as she ruled that some of the plaintiff’s claims had to be dismissed. The case stemmed from a massive 2009 downsizing by then-DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who drew national attention for her sometimes controversial efforts to improve the capital’s public schools. national.

“The RIF…was quite controversial,” Jackson observed in his opinion in Willis v. Grey. “It was all the more true that [the District of Columbia Public Schools] had hired more than 900 teachers in the previous months, many of whom were under 40 and new to teaching (unlike many veteran teachers who were made redundant under the RIF).

The black teacher in the case before Jackson, who was 51 at the time of his release, alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The teacher argued that administrators were trying to drive older, African-American teachers out of the system.

“The court concludes that [the teacher’s] to pretend that [his principal] unlawfully decided to include it in the GIR, particularly because discrimination based on age and race can take place,” Jackson wrote.

In a handful of special education cases to come before her, Jackson sometimes ruled for the District of Columbia school system and other times upheld private school tuition reimbursement for parents who argued that the public system had failed to provide free and appropriate public education under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In a 2018 case, Jackson ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services under President Donald Trump’s administration violated federal administrative law by terminating funding for three providers of child pregnancy prevention programs. adolescent girls in schools or other institutions without explanation and two years from programs. ‘ initial federal grants.

“Because HHS terminated Plaintiffs’ grant funding within the meaning of HHS regulations without explanation and in violation of its own regulations, HHS’s action easily qualifies as an arbitrary and capricious act under the law. . [Administrative Procedure Act]wrote Jackson in Policy and Research LLC v. US Department of Health and Human Services.

Jackson helped students learn about their constitutional rights.

In another context, Jackson participated in arguments on two landmark Supreme Court education cases. But it was re-arguments in a mock court before high school students in two key student rights cases involving free speech and unreasonable search and seizure.

Jackson served with two other federal judges for the false arguments of Tinker v. Des Moines Community Independent School Districtthe 1969 ruling on students’ First Amendment free speech rights, and New Jersey vs. TLOthe 1985 ruling that gave school administrators greater latitude than the police to search for students looking for contraband on school grounds.

The false arguments were conducted in 2017 and 2019, respectively, for Washington high school students and were hosted by the District of Columbia Circuit Historical Society.

In the Tinker mock argument, Jackson posed tough questions to both sides as the youngsters argued the landmark case, in which the court upheld students who wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.

Jackson asked if kindergarteners would have the same right to speech in school as high school students. And to the “lawyer” defending the Des Moines School District’s suspension of students wearing armbands, Jackson said, “Aren’t the same Vietnam War debates going on all over the country? Do you agree that if there is controversy over an issue across the country, students no longer have a First Amendment right to express their views on that issue? »

When the panel of judges ruled for the students, just as the Supreme Court had done in 1969, Jackson played the dissenting role, reading excerpts from Justice Hugo L. Black’s angry dissent in the Tinker Case. But it seemed clear from a video of the event released by the Historical Society that Jackson didn’t share that dissenting view.

To a student in the audience who questioned why school administrators were restricting student speech, Jackson said, “I think you are questioning the rationales of school officials. ‘Why would you have this rule’ [against armbands], I think you’re saying, if you have this rule, you’re encouraging more disruption than letting students do whatever they want. I think that’s a very fair point.


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