President Biden selected Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer on the Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to serve as a justice.
WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday said he would nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, elevating a well-regarded federal appeals court judge who, if confirmed, would make history by becoming the first Black woman to serve as a justice.
Mr. Biden’s decision, made after a monthlong search, fulfilled a campaign promise to nominate a Black woman to the bench, and set into motion a confirmation battle that will play out in an evenly divided Senate. He announced the nomination at the White House, flanked by Judge Jackson and Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to be elected vice president.
“For too long our government, our courts, haven’t looked like America,” Mr. Biden said in remarks delivered two years to the day after he made his campaign promise in South Carolina. “I believe it is time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.”
In Judge Jackson, 51, Mr. Biden selected a liberal-leaning jurist who earned a measure of Republican support when he nominated her last year to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — an accomplishment the president, intent on curtailing the sort of partisan rancor touched off by recent nominations, took pains to emphasize.
Judge Jackson will begin meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill next week. If confirmed by the Senate, she would replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the senior member of the court’s three-member liberal wing, who announced last month that he would retire at the end of the current court term this summer if his successor was in place.
In his remarks on Friday, Mr. Biden pointed out that Judge Jackson, a former clerk for Justice Breyer, was a jurist whose legal approach was informed by the man she hoped to replace.
“Not only did she learn about being a judge from Justice Breyer himself,” Mr. Biden said, “she saw the great rigor through which Stephen Breyer approached his work.”
While her confirmation would not change the court’s ideological balance — conservatives appointed by Republicans would retain their 6-3 majority — it would achieve another first: all three justices appointed by Democratic presidents would be women.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Judge Jackson said in her own set of remarks, “I can only hope that my life and 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.”
Judge Jackson’s nomination was praised by Democrats, but few Republicans in the Senate are expected to support her. Shortly after the White House announced Mr. Biden’s decision, conservative lawmakers and interest groups criticized her Ivy League background and characterized her past rulings as too liberal. In a cascade of statements, some Republicans questioned Mr. Biden’s choice, but they largely avoided scorched-earth calls to oppose her nomination.
“The Senate must conduct a rigorous, exhaustive review of Judge Jackson’s nomination as befits a lifetime appointment to our highest court,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said in a statement, pointing out that he was not one of the Republicans who voted in favor of her nomination last summer.
The three Republicans who joined a 53-to-44 vote to confirm her last year — and who will be under pressure from Democrats to do so again — were Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
In recent weeks, Mr. Graham had been a vocal supporter of a judge from his own state, J. Michelle Childs, to replace Justice Breyer. He cast doubt on the idea that he would vote for Judge Jackson again: “The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated,” he wrote Friday on Twitter.
Judge Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Miami. She graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Justice Breyer’s alma mater. She went on to clerk for him during the 1999-2000 Supreme Court term. Four current Supreme Court justices, including two nominated by Republican presidents, went to Harvard.
Image Judge Jackson’s daughter Leila, left, and husband Patrick G. Jackson listen as Mr. Biden announces his intent to nominate Judge Jackson. Credit… Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
In her remarks, Judge Jackson emphasized her faith and her family. Her parents were public school teachers. One of her uncles was Miami’s police chief, and another was a sex crimes detective. Her younger brother worked for the Baltimore police in undercover drug stings.
Another uncle, Thomas Brown, was sentenced to life in prison in October 1989 for possessing a large amount of cocaine with intent to distribute it. He was released in November 2017, after President Barack Obama commuted most of his remaining sentence, along with those of many others sentenced when so-called three-strikes laws sent many nonviolent drug offenders to prison for decades. Public records suggest Mr. Brown died about four months later.
“You may have read that I have one uncle who got caught up in the drug trade and received a life sentence,” Judge Jackson said. “That is true. But law enforcement also runs in my family.”
When Mr. Biden and his advisers began planning for a possible Supreme Court vacancy during the presidential transition, Judge Jackson was brought up as one of the likeliest possibilities. She was always a front-runner, people familiar with the process said, in part because she was well-known and well-liked in Washington legal circles.
During Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing to be a Federal District Court judge in Washington in 2012, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate, recounted that Justice Breyer had two words when asked about her eligibility for the post: “Hire her.”
When Judge Jackson was sworn in for the job in 2013, Justice Breyer did the honors. “She sees things from different points of view, and she sees somebody else’s point of view and understands it,” he said at the time.
Judge Jackson was chosen from a short list that also included Leondra R. Kruger of the California Supreme Court, a former law clerk on the Supreme Court whose Yale Law pedigree is shared by four of the current justices; and Judge Childs, a Federal District Court judge in South Carolina, a state whose Black voters Mr. Biden has credited with helping him win the presidency.
White House officials have pushed back on the idea that Judge Jackson was always the favorite, and according to a person who worked with another one of the candidates, White House officials were vetting other potential nominees until at least Wednesday afternoon.
As Mr. Biden continued to deliberate this week, concern grew among White House allies that waiting until the end of his self-imposed deadline at the end of the month would deprive a historic nominee of her due, sandwiched between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Mr. Biden’s State of the Union address, scheduled for Tuesday. Democrats in Congress worried that dragging out the announcement heightened the risk that a nominee could not be confirmed before a scheduled two-week recess in early April.
By Thursday, Mr. Biden had decided. He called Judge Jackson that evening to offer her the nomination, and she accepted. Several White House officials, including Ron Klain, the chief of staff, and Dana Remus, the White House counsel, have extensive experience with the court, and helped him make his final decision.
Image Judge Jackson last month in her office in Washington. Credit… Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Judge Jackson has a substantial judicial track record, having served on federal courts longer than several of the current justices had when they were appointed. In her eight months on the federal appeals court, she has yet to produce a body of opinions that express a legal philosophy, but the two majority opinions she has issued have been detailed and methodical.
The great bulk of her opinions stem from her eight years on the Federal District Court in Washington, as a trial judge, and many of them suggest that she would be about as liberal as Justice Breyer if she is confirmed.
Her most notable decisions on the district court included blocking the Trump administration’s attempts to fast-track deportations, cut short grants for teen pregnancy prevention and shield a former White House counsel from testifying before Congress about President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation.
“Presidents are not kings,” she wrote in 2019, issuing a ruling that Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel, had to obey a congressional subpoena seeking his testimony about Mr. Trump’s actions. She added, “They do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”
Plans to move her into position began last year, when Mr. Biden elevated her from the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia to the powerful federal appeals court, a traditional proving ground for potential justices.
Her background as a public defender made her an unusual, but to Mr. Biden, appealing, choice. When a Republican senator asked during the confirmation process last year whether she had been concerned that her work as a public defender could put violent criminals back on the streets, she argued that having such a background was an asset.
“Having lawyers who can set aside their own personal beliefs about their client’s alleged behavior or their client’s propensity to commit crimes benefits all persons in the United States,” she said in a written response, “because it incentivizes the government to investigate accusations thoroughly and to protect the rights of the accused during the criminal justice process.”
Judge Jackson has two daughters and is married to Patrick G. Jackson, a general surgeon at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. She is related by marriage to Paul D. Ryan, the former House speaker and Republican vice-presidential candidate. (Dr. Jackson is the twin brother of Mr. Ryan’s brother-in-law.) At her 2012 confirmation hearing, Mr. Ryan testified in her support.
“Our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, and for her integrity, is unequivocal,” Mr. Ryan tweeted on Friday, echoing the testimony he gave on her behalf a decade ago.
Reporting was contributed by Adam Liptak and Charlie Savage from Washington, and Patricia Mazzei from Miami.