President Joe Biden appointed Ketanji brown Jackson to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court.
Jackson, 51 years of age, is currently a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit. Barack Obama appointed her as a U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit judge in 2012. She held this position until Biden raised her to federal appellate status.
She has impressive qualifications. Her degree was from the University of California, Berkeley. cum laudeHarvard Law School. She later worked as a clerk at the Supreme Court, where she was praised by retiring Judge Breyer for being “brilliant.”
Jackson, if confirmed, would bring much-needed diversity to the top court. Clark Neily, a Cato Institute criminal justice scholar, has noted that there is an “unbalance” at the federal court between judges who have represented the government and those who challenge it in court. Neily noted that nearly every court case that pits a citizen against the state is a David versus Goliath fight to justice. Therefore, Neily said that it was unfair to “increase the odds of all judges representing Goliath” and detrimental to the justice system.
Jackson’s background in law will partially correct the imbalance at the top court, which is full of ex-government lawyers. She was an assistant federal public defense attorney in Washington, D.C., where she fought against both the government and the courts between 2005 and 2007. We hope she carries that experience with us.
This SCOTUS selection will be welcomed by criminal justice reform supporters. Jackson’s admirable judgement in instances involving excessive police force is a reason for this. Let’s take Patterson v. United States(2013). The story centered around the arrest of Anthony Michael Patterson (Occupy D.C.) for profanity use in a public place. Paterson was asked by officers not to curse at Tea Party activists. Patterson refused and was detained for disorderly behavior. Later, the charges were dropped against Patterson.
Patterson brought suit against officers to challenge his bogus arrest. It was only the legal exercise of First Amendment rights at a public location that triggered it. They sought to throw out the suit. Qualified immunity is a controversial doctrine that protects state officials against being sued for constitutional rights violations. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Harlow v. FitzgeraldThe state actor is entitled to immunity in civil suits that arise from official behavior, as long as it does not “violate clearly established statutory and constitutional rights.” The officers claimed in this instance that Patterson could not be arrested because he used a four letter word in public.
Jackson made a mockery of the officers in her ruling and denies them qualified immunity. She wrote that the right to avoid a retaliatory arrest if there is no probable cause was clearly recognized in her jurisdiction. She stated that “a police officer unquestionably knows that an arrest of a speaker solely on his speech, and without probable cause to believe that the speaker has committed a crime, is against the First Amendment.”
The case was far from closed-door. Another federal judge has rubber stamped even more serious police misconduct by awarding qualified immunity in spite of evidence that clearly violates constitutional rights. Jackson held the officers responsible, which is a credit to Jackson. Jackson concluded by stating that no reasonable officer could have concluded Patterson had committed disorderly behavior based upon the allegations in the complaint.
We are hoping the Patterson v. U.S.Her experience has stayed with her, so she continues to have a similar positive impact on any qualified immunity cases brought before her at SCOTUS.
Biden now has his nominee. The next step is the Senate Judiciary Committee. Their Democratic majority almost certainly will advance Jackson’s nomination through the full Senate. First, there’ll be confirmation hearings in front of that committee. This will likely be a hilarious spectacle with grandstanding politicians babble about legal concepts they don’t understand.
Going forward, the real question is whether Jackson’s slim Democratic majority will suffice to ensure a seat on the Supreme Court. Soon enough, we will know if the party will align itself behind Biden’s nominee and if the small number of Democratic senators who have blocked other Biden-related items will again do so here.