Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s High Court nominee, was inspired by her father, Johnny Brown, an alumnus of the University of Miami Law School.
Hours before the first rays of the morning sun broke through the sky, Johnny Brown was already awake in his apartment on the University of Miami campus, helping his 4-year-old daughter, Ketanji, get ready for school. .
He would drive the 40-minute drive from the Brownsville neighborhood to Miami, drop her off at kindergarten, and then return to the university’s Coral Gables campus for the start of law school classes.
“I did it every day because I knew it would help make a difference in Ketanji’s life. But we never deliberately went out and said we wanted to instill certain life lessons in him. We gave the example,” Brown, a 1977 Miami Law graduate, said of how he and his wife, Ellery, raised their daughter. “We always tried to place her in the best educational environments we could find. , and then letting her make the necessary adjustments and decisions based on that.”
Last Friday, at a White House event filled with symbolism, the Browns watched on national television as President Joe Biden name their now 51-year-old daughter, Federal Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the court. Supreme Court of the United States, keeping a campaign promise. he did two years ago to the day to appoint a black woman to the highest court in the land.
“For too long our government, our courts have not looked like America. And I believe it’s time we had a court that reflected all the talent and greatness of our nation with a candidate with extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspired all young people to believe that they could one day serve their country in the highest level,” Biden said, as Kamala Harris, the first woman, first black American and first South Asian American to be elected vice president, looks on.
Like most, Brown and his wife didn’t learn of their daughter’s nomination until Biden took to the White House Cross Hall podium on Friday to make the announcement.
“Ketanji was told she shouldn’t tell anyone, so she obeyed the rules. But, of course, we suspected that all along,” Brown said in an exclusive interview with [email protected]
Jackson spoke with his parents shortly after the nomination, shedding tears of joy. “We told her she was successful, that we loved her,” Brown said.
He recalled his days at the University of Miami Law School and how he himself helped blaze new trails as one of the first black people to attend the school.
Brown also reflected on how Jackson, as a little girl, sat next to him at the kitchen table in their on-campus apartment, doodling with her crayons as he studied misdemeanors, contracts and constitutional law in his textbooks.
These moments helped ignite his passion for the legal profession.
“It was my dad who started me down this path,” Jackson said during Friday’s announcement. “When I was a kid, as the president mentioned, my father made the fateful decision to quit his job as a history teacher at a public high school and go to law school. Some of my earliest memories are of him sitting at the kitchen table, reading his law books. I watched him study and he became my first professional model.
Jackson had been considered a frontrunner for the job since Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she clerked in 1999, announced his retirement in January. Now begins the confirmation process to install a black woman on the Supreme Court for the first time in US history.
“I hope the Senate process will be as smooth as its previous confirmations,” said law school law professor Zanita Fenton, who, like Jackson, has a Harvard law degree. “Although partisan politics have rarely been more divisive, a candidate with such stellar qualifications should be treated with the respect she has earned over the course of her career.”
Born in Washington, DC, Jackson grew up in Miami, attending Palmetto Senior High School before earning undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard. She currently sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
During her 2021 confirmation hearing for the appeals court, she spoke about her family’s background in public service, noting that her father was a Miami-Dade County school board attorney, her mother was a principal of the New World School of the Arts. in Miami, and that his brother was a police officer and had served in the military.
If confirmed, she will also go down in history in another way: to become the first former federal public defender on the Supreme Court and the first justice since Thurgood Marshall to have extensive criminal defense experience.
But how will Jackson’s professional background and lived experience as a black woman in the United States shape the way she approaches Supreme Court cases?
“Like the Founders, I believe that a range of experiences best serves the composition of the tribunal and ultimately the development and foundations of proper jurisprudence,” Fenton said. “We are still far from representing the entire American population; the addition of an experienced black jurist as a trial attorney can only benefit the court and the nation.
Claire Oueslati-Porter, senior lecturer and director of gender and sexuality studies at the College of Arts and Sciences, said “Jackson’s experiences as a public defender will be of particular importance in shaping his perspective in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The fact that she has a family background with a focus on education and law will work to people’s benefit.
Brown wants the nation to ignore the fact that her daughter is black and focus on her qualifications.
“Everybody tends to focus on that. [that Jackson is Black], and that is understandable,” he said. “But she will bring so much more insight, intelligence. She understands other people’s points of view and she will be one of the brightest judges on the court. Just watch.”