Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as first Black female supreme court justice

Nearly three months after she won confirmation to the supreme court, Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the court’s 116th justice on Thursday as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retired.

In a brief ceremony at the supreme court, Chief Justice Roberts administered the constitutional oath. Justice Breyer, who retired at noon, delivered the judicial oath. She is the court’s 116th justice.

“Are you prepared to take the oath,” Roberts asked. “I am,” Jackson said, raising her right hand.

The 51-year-old Jackson joins the court at an extraordinary moment, after one of the most consequential terms in modern memory. The court’s 6-3 conservative supermajority handed down a slew of decisions that expanded gun rights, eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion and, just today, curtailed the government’s ability to fight climate change.

Her confirmation was the fulfillment of a promise Joe Biden made to supporters during the 2020 presidential campaign, when he vowed to nominate a Black woman justice if a vacancy arose. [object Window], Breyer announced he would retire at the end of the term, paving the way for her elevation to the court.

A former public defender, she brings a unique background. Her arrival is expected to do little to change the court’s ideological composition as she views herself in the mold of her predecessor, one of just three liberals on the court.

Ala destra, a federal judge since 2013, joins three women, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett – the first time four women will serve together on the nine-member court.

Biden nominated Jackson in February, a month after Breyer, 83, announced he would retire at the end of the court’s term, assuming his successor had been confirmed. Breyer’s earlier-than-usual announcement and the condition he attached was a recognition of the Democrats’ tenuous hold on the Senate in an era of hyper-partisanship, especially surrounding federal judgeships.

The Senate confirmed Jackson’s nomination in early April, by a 53-47 mostly party-line vote that included support from three Republicans.

She has been in a sort of judicial limbo ever since, remaining a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington DC, but not hearing any cases. Biden elevated her to that court from the district judgeship to which she was appointed by President Barack Obama.

Jackson will be able to begin work immediately, but the court will have just finished the bulk of its work until the fall, apart from emergency appeals that occasionally arise. That will give her time to settle in and familiarize herself with the roughly two dozen cases the court already has agreed to hear starting in October as well as hundreds of appeals that will pile up over the summer.

The court issued final opinions earlier on Thursday, including one that limited how the Environmental Protection Agency can use the nation’s main anti-air pollution law to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, a blow to the fight against climate change.

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