Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as Supreme Court justice, replacing Stephen Breyer

Politics

Ketanji Brown Jackson made history Thursday as the first-ever black woman sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jackson, 51, replaces Justice Stephen Breyer, whose resignation from the Supreme Court becomes effective at noon after his nearly 28 years of service there.

President Joe Biden nominated Jackson for the Supreme Court after Breyer announced in January that he would step down at the end of the court’s 2021 term, which concluded Thursday morning.

In a brief ceremony at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Jackson took two oaths of office.

In the constitutional oath, delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jackson solemnly swore to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., looks on as Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson signs the Oaths of Office in the Justices’ Conference Room, Supreme Court Building.
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Breyer delivered the second, statutory oath, in which Jackson swore to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

Jackson, smiling throughout the ceremony, was joined by her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, who held two bibles for the oath, and their two daughters, Talia and Leila.

The court will hold another formal inaugurating ceremony, called an investiture, in the fall, Roberts said. But Thursday’s oaths allow Jackson to begin her work as the newest member of the nine-seat high court. Until Thursday, she served as a judge on the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit,

“With a full heart, I accept the solemn responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and administering justice without fear or favor, so help me God,” Jackson said in a written statement issued by the court.

“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. “I am also especially grateful for the time and attention given to me by the Chief Justice and by Justice Breyer. Justice Breyer has been a personal friend and mentor of mine for the past two decades, in addition to being part of today’s official act.”

Breyer, in his own statement, said, “I am glad today for Ketanji. Her hard work, integrity, and intelligence have earned her a place on this Court. I am glad for my fellow Justices. They gain a colleague who is empathetic, thoughtful, and collegial. I am glad for America. Ketanji will interpret the law wisely and fairly, helping that law to work better for the American people, whom it serves.”

Jackson was confirmed by the Senate in April by a vote of 53-47. Three Republican senators joined Democrats to confirm her.

Jackson, like Breyer, is considered a liberal jurist. She joins two other liberal members of the court, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson meets with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) (not pictured), on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 28, 2022.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

The Supreme Court has a supermajority of six conservatives, among them Roberts and three appointees of former President Donald Trump: Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Another conservative, Justice Clarence Thomas, is the only other black person currently on the court. Thomas replaced the first black man to serve on the court, Justice Thurgood Marshall, in 1991.

Jackson’s elevation comes as public confidence in the Supreme Court has sunk to historic lows following its controversial draft opinion on abortion leaked in May.

Just 25% of American adults said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the court, according to a Gallup poll released June 23.

That is 11 percentage points lower than the level of confidence expressed a year ago and 5 percentage points below the last low, seen in 2014.

The poll was released a day before the Supreme Court issued its final opinion overturning its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, saying there is no federal constitutional right to abortion.

The new ruling allows individual states to set their own restrictions on abortion without fear of running afoul of Roe, which permitted pregnancies to be terminated in most cases.

Trump’s appointees provided the votes needed to overturn Roe, joining with Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion.

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