Supreme Court

EXPLAINER: What's Ahead for Biden's Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson

Jackson would replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who has said he will retire this summer at the end of the court's current session

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The White House says President Joe Biden will nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, launching what Democrats hope will be a quick, bipartisan confirmation process. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman on the court.

Jackson would replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who has said he will retire this summer at the end of the court's current session. But Democrats want to confirm Jackson months or weeks before that, ensuring she is the nominee-in-waiting in case the 50-50 balance of the Senate shifts in any way. Democrats control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaking vote.

As they figure out the timeline ahead, Democrats are looking to the 2020 confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett as a new standard. While other nominees had taken several months, Barrett was confirmed a little more than five weeks after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Jackson’s confirmation will likely take longer than that, but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said Friday that the panel will start the process “immediately.”

The last three Supreme Court confirmations, all nominees chosen by former President Donald Trump, were intense partisan battles that deeply divided the Senate. Democrats say they want to bring down the temperature and confirm Jackson with votes from both Republicans and Democrats. But it’s unclear if they will be able to do that.

A look at Jackson’s nomination, and the next steps in the Senate:


Jackson was nominated by President Biden in 2021 to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and confirmed by the Senate last June. She previously sat on the D.C. district court, nominated by former President Barack Obama and confirmed in 2013. Earlier in her career, she worked as a law clerk for Breyer and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the agency that develops federal sentencing policy.


Once the White House officially transmits Jackson's nomination to Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee will send her a long questionnaire to begin the vetting process. At the same time, she will begin setting up meetings with any senators who want to meet her for private conversations before confirmation hearings begin. Jackson is expected to begin making the rounds on Capitol Hill next week.

Senators will spend the next few weeks reading up on Jackson’s background, career and, most importantly, her decisions and opinions as a federal judge.

Her confirmation hearings, expected to last around four days, could begin as soon as mid-March.

Here are five things to know about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.


Democrats have an unofficial goal of confirming Jackson by April 8, when the Senate is scheduled to leave Washington for a two-week spring recess.

That may be aspirational, but Biden made the process easier by picking Jackson, who was already vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year when Biden nominated her for her current job.

Several factors could still delay action. Democrats are waiting on the return of New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján, who suffered a stroke several weeks ago and is expected back in the Senate next month. Without Luján, Democrats don’t have the necessary 50 votes in the Senate, and would have to depend on some Republican support to confirm Jackson.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine could also complicate the timeline, as the US. response will also preoccupy the Senate and the White House in the weeks to come.


Most Senate Republicans are expected to oppose the nomination, and their early statements were skeptical. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell questioned Jackson's productivity as an appeals court judge, while others asked about her record on crime or liberal credentials.

But because Jackson replacing Breyer would not shift the ideological balance of the court, and because Republicans confirmed three conservative justices under Trump, GOP senators may not spend a lot of political energy opposing her. As the midterm election approaches, Republicans want to keep the focus on issues like inflation and education that they believe are politically damaging to Democrats.

But race looms as a potential flashpoint. Several GOP senators have said it was inappropriate for Biden to pledge during his presidential campaign that he would nominate a Black woman. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the move is discriminatory and an “insult” to Black women. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said he views Biden’s promise as “affirmative action” for the Supreme Court.

McConnell has made clear he doesn’t want that kind of criticism to continue. Speaking in Kentucky this week, he dismissed claims that Biden's promise was inappropriate and noted that Trump himself pledged to put a woman on the court before Barrett was nominated.

“We don’t have a nominee yet, but I guarantee she will be respectfully vetted with the kind of process I think you can be proud of,” McConnell said Tuesday. In his statement Friday, McConnell said he looked forward to meeting with Jackson.

In her acceptance speech, Jackson also noted the mentorship of Justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring at the end of the term this summer.


As long as Luján returns by the final vote, and the rest of the Democratic caucus stays healthy and present in Washington, Democrats could confirm Jackson with no Republican support. Vice President Harris could break a tie.

Still, Biden and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin have said they want the vote to be bipartisan. Biden invited several Republican senators to the White House as he weighed his pick, and Durbin has stayed in close touch with several key Republicans, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel.

Republican Sens. Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina all voted for Jackson’s confirmation to the federal appeals court last year. While Collins has appeared open to voting for her again, it is unclear whether Murkowski, who is up for reelection this year, or Graham, who had pushed for another candidate, would support her.

Graham, who has voted for several of Biden’s judicial nominees, had pushed the president to nominate federal Judge J. Michelle Childs, a South Carolinian. He said earlier this month that his vote would be “very problematic” if Childs were not the nominee, and he expressed disappointment after the announcement from the White House on Friday.


Jackson would be the first Black woman justice in the court’s more than 200 years of existence and one of only a handful of women.

Of the 115 justices who have served, there have been just five women, beginning with Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981. One of the five, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is a Latina. The others have all been white -- O’Connor, Coney Barrett, Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Thurgood Marshall are the only two Black men who have served on the court.

Jackson is “one of our nation’s brightest legal minds and will be an exceptional Justice,” Biden tweeted Friday morning.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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