Ketanji Brown Jackson took her seat as the 116th justice of the Supreme Court of the United States this past Sept. 30, 2022.
Many are hoping that as the third African American to serve on the court, and the first Black female justice, Brown Jackson will follow in the tradition of SCOTUS’s first African American justice, the late Thurgood Marshall.
Marshall, a civil rights activist and lawyer with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had argued 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case. Brown v. Board of Education led the Supreme Court to declare “separate but equal” unconstitutional in public schools across the nation. President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court; he served as a justice from October 1967 to October 1991. “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps,” Marshall is quoted as having stated. “We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”
So far, Brown Jackson has carved out her own activist judicial path. Born Sept. 14, 1970, in Washington, D.C. to Johnny and Ellery Brown, her parents wanted to give her a name that honored her African ancestry. Her aunt was serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa and they asked her to compile a list of African names they might use. They chose the name Ketanji Onyika because it means “lovely one.”
Ketanji Onyika worked at Time magazine and served as an intern for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem before attending Harvard law school where she became an editor on the law review and graduated cum laude in 1996. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer prior to being named his SCOTUS replacement by Biden on Feb. 25, 2022.
“I’m so honored to have so many people who have encouraged me, who have supported me and who view this as a really important step for our country and for our society,” Brown Jackson told the Washington Post following her confirmation hearings. “It’s not about me personally, in a sense. I’m embodying this progress that many people feel we’re making by having me appointed to this seat. And so it’s pretty daunting in a lot of ways.
“It means you feel the weight of wanting to succeed, not just for you in your own independent status, but because so many people are watching and view this as a door opening for others. I know in the past I’ve felt, ‘Gosh, I’ve really got to do well here so that other people will have this opportunity down the line.’ That I might be the first, but I don’t want to be the last, and it’s on my shoulders to make sure that I leave a good impression so that others can follow.”
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both attended the invite-only Sept. 30th SCOTUS investiture ceremony. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and members of Brown Jackson’s family, her husband Patrick, two daughters, Leila and Talia, and parents Johnny and Ellery Brown, were among those in attendance.The court’s new term began on Monday, Oct. 3 with oral argument sessions that are open to the public (masking for oral arguments is optional), and audio of court sessions that will be streamed on the homepage of the Court’s website at https://www.supremecourt.gov/.