Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be sworn in as the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice at noon Thursday, just minutes after her mentor Justice Stephen G. Breyer makes his retirement official.
Breyer’s work on the court will end with release of the term’s remaining opinions and possibly with the announcement of some new cases accepted for next term. Jackson will be sworn in at a private ceremony at the Supreme Court that will be live-streamed on The Washington Post’s homepage. Breyer and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will administer the oaths Jackson must take.
Breyer sent a letter to Biden on Wednesday that said he planned to end his service on the high court at noon.
“You have nominated and the United States Senate has confirmed the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed me in the office, and I understand that she is prepared to take the prescribed oaths to begin her service as the 116th member of this court,” wrote Breyer, who hired Jackson as a clerk for the 1999-2000 term.
Breyer added, “It has been my great honor to participate as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the Rule of Law.”
Jackson will become the first Black woman to serve on the high court, and her elevation from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will mean the Supreme Court for the first time will have four female justices among its nine members. She will serve with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.
Jackson will be only the third African American justice, following Thurgood Marshall, who died in 1993, and Clarence Thomas, who is the court’s longest-serving justice. With Breyer’s retirement, the 74-year-old Thomas will also become the court’s oldest justice.
New justices normally take their oaths and begin work as quickly as possible. Although the court will not hear oral arguments again until a new term starts in October, Jackson will immediately become eligible to hear the emergency petitions that have become an increasingly large part of the court’s work. She already has hired four clerks, and will begin the processing of deciding whether to grant additional cases for the court’s docket.
She has not heard cases on the appeals court since Biden announced her nomination in February. She has kept a low profile, with limited appearances to talk about mentoring and to give a commencement address at the graduation of one of her daughters from Georgetown Day School in Washington.
She also gave an interview to The Post, where she talked about the significance of her nomination and the responsibility she feels.
“So many people are watching and view this as a door opening for others,” Jackson said in the May interview. “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.”
She joins a court split by sharp ideological differences and a liberal minority that answered the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade with an expansive and critical dissent.
“I’m an optimistic person by nature,” Jackson said in the interview. “I will approach this by bringing that and my experience as a judge, my experience as a person in the world and my interest in making it all work.”