Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was born in the nation’s capital but grew up in the Miami area. She was a member of the debate team at Miami Palmetto Senior High School before earning both her undergraduate degree and law degree at Harvard.
She also previously clerked for retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and served as a federal public defender in Washington — an experience that her backers say is fitting, given Biden’s commitment to putting more public defenders on the federal bench.
She was also a commissioner on the US Sentencing Commission and served on the federal district court in DC, as an appointee of President Barack Obama, before Biden elevated her to the DC Circuit last year.
Jackson thanked Breyer when she was presented as Biden’s nominee last month.
“Justice Breyer, in particular, not only gave me the greatest job that any young lawyer could ever hope to have, but he also exemplified every day, in every way, that a Supreme Court justice can perform at the highest level of skill and integrity, while also being guided by civility, grace, pragmatism and generosity of spirit,” Jackson said. “Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat, but please know that I could never fill your shoes.”
At her 2021 confirmation hearing for the appellate court, she connected her family’s professions — her parents worked in public schools — to her decision to work as a public defender.
“I come from a background of public service. My parents were in public service, my brother was a police officer and (was) in the military,” she said at the time, “and being in the public defenders’ office felt very much like the opportunity to help with my skills and talents.”
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, is a relative by marriage and introduced her at the 2013 hearing for her district court nomination.
Ryan also congratulated Jackson when she was nominated.
“Janna and I are incredibly happy for Ketanji and her entire family. Our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, and for her integrity, is unequivocal,” Ryan said.
At the White House event for her nomination, Jackson noted that an uncle was previously given a life sentence on drug charges, an issue of which she hasn’t previously spoken about publicly.
“You may have read that I have one uncle who got caught up in the drug trade and received a life sentence,” Jackson said. “That is true, but law enforcement also runs in my family. In addition to my brother, I had two uncles who served decades as police officers, one of whom became the police chief in my hometown of Miami, Florida.”
In 2008, when Jackson was in private practice and well before she became a judge, Jackson referred her uncle’s file to WilmerHale, a law firm that handles numerous clemency petitions, according to a spokesperson for the firm.
The firm submitted the petition on Brown’s behalf on October 7, 2014, and Obama commuted his sentence on November 22, 2016. According to the firm, Jackson had “no further involvement in the matter” after making the referral. Jackson’s chambers said she would decline comment on the issue.
“I am standing here today by the grace of God as testament to the love and support that I’ve received from my family,” Jackson added when nominated.
Read more about Jackson’s personal history and legal record here.