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Ketanji Brown Jackson, U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on April 28, 2021.KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

By nominating Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, Joe Biden has broken with history while selecting a jurist who conforms almost perfectly with history.

If confirmed, as she almost certainly will be in the Democratic Party-controlled Senate, Judge Jackson would become the first Black woman on America’s most important judicial forum – a pledge Mr. Biden made in his presidential campaign. She would also be the first one-time public defender elevated to the high court – a happy congruence for the President, himself a former public defender.

She would be the third justice on the court appointed by a Democrat – all of them women. She would join every justice but one – Amy Coney Barrett, the only justice younger than Judge Jackson – in holding a degree from an Ivy League institution. She has family connections to the judicial system – an uncle was facing life in prison on a drug charge until Barack Obama commuted his sentence after 25 years in jail. And she has an important connection with Republicans: She is related by marriage to former House speaker Paul Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice-presidential nominee.

“By all measures, Judge Jackson would fit in exactly and easily with the existing Supreme Court,” said Daniel Urman, a Northeastern University Law School expert on constitutional law. “She fits the mould with recent nominations. In so many ways she’s perfect. If you were to create an algorithm for a Supreme Court justice, she would come up right away.”

“For too long our government, our courts, haven’t looked like America,” Mr. Biden said in announcing his selection. “I believe it is time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.”

Judge Jackson would replace Stephen Breyer, for whom she once clerked, making her one of six justices who won that coveted post-law school position. She would in fact be in line with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Brett Kavanaugh, former Supreme Court clerks who replaced their one-time bosses on the court. She sits on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a natural feeder position for the Supreme Court, where Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas, along with the late justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, once sat.

“We are going to have on the court a first-rate talent who has succeeded in every measure you would want in a justice,” said Jon Michaels, a constitutional law professor at UCLA.

Judge Jackson, 51, is considered a moderate liberal – despite the Friday remark from GOP Senate Judiciary Committee member Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said the President’s selection “means the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again.”

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, she is the daughter of alumni of historically Black universities. Her father went to law school at night, and her mother was the principal of a charter school that offered specialized courses.

But for all her footprints along the traditional path to the 252-foot-wide oval plaza at the entrance to the Supreme Court, Judge Jackson would almost certainly transform the composition and character of the court, even though her selection would not alter the court’s 6-3 conservative majority.

“Each new justice changes not just one vote but all the relationships, discussions, dynamics and experiences at the court,” said Martha Minow, a former dean of Harvard Law School. “Her time as a public defender and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission has made her one of the true experts on the actual operation of the criminal justice system.”

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who in 1981 became the first woman on the high court, recalled how hearing directly from Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black on the court, about racial issues, criminal law and other areas in which he had first-hand experience deeply affected all the members of the court. She called it a “special perspective.”

“His was the eye of a lawyer who saw the deepest wounds in the social fabric and used law to heal them,” she wrote in a 1992 article in the Stanford Law Review. “At oral arguments and conference meetings, in opinions and dissents, Justice Marshall imparted not only his legal acumen but also his life experiences, constantly pushing and prodding us to respond not only to the persuasiveness of legal arguments but also to the power of moral truth.”

Judge Jackson, who would join the three justices on the court selected by Donald Trump, has repeatedly ruled against Mr. Trump and his administration. In a decision growing out of the Trump administration’s argument that former White House counsel Don McGahn had no obligation to co-operate with a congressional investigation, she argued, “The primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that presidents are not kings.”

The lobbying on behalf of Judge Jackson, one of three finalists for the nomination, was furious. Earlier this month, some 175 Black alumni of Harvard sent a letter to Mr. Biden saying that Judge Jackson “would listen to diverse perspectives and assemble coalitions to accomplish objectives” and arguing that she “achieved a level of personal excellence in school that was legendary, but she also paid it forward by helping others, such as when she taught high school students to perform with poise and confidence in public speaking competitions.”

Mr. Biden made his decision amid the growing crisis in Ukraine, but he had pledged to make his choice before the end of February, which is Black History Month in the United States and Canada. The President, a one-time chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who was at the centre of bruising controversies over the failed nomination of Robert Bork (1987) and the successful nomination of Clarence Thomas (1991), had a special incentive to select a jurist who could be confirmed easily. Judge Jackson was nominated by Barack Obama to the D.C. District Court and was confirmed nine years ago by a voice vote in the Senate. Mr. Biden appointed her to the appeals court, and she won Senate approval by a 53-44 margin less than a year ago.

“It’s not as if Biden didn’t have time to think about this,” said Kenneth Gormley, a constitutional scholar and the president of Duquesne University. “He made a campaign promise to select a Black woman, and Justice Breyer is in his 80s. This selection was made deliberately. The President is a centrist and was never going to choose someone on the very far left of his party. That actually aligns with what Breyer wanted, and that is why he stepped down now.”

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