Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in Thursday as the Supreme Court’s 116th justice and its first Black woman on the bench, a historic change for an institution that for the first time is no longer composed of a majority of White men.
Jackson took the dual oaths of office at a simple ceremony in the court’s West Conference Room that was live-streamed. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the constitutional oath, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the man she replaced and for whom she served as a law clerk, led her through the judicial oath. Her husband, Patrick Jackson, held two Bibles on which she rested her hand.
There will be a formal investiture ceremony in the fall, where the new justice and Roberts will take the traditional walk down the court’s front steps.
Roberts said Jackson, who was confirmed by the Senate in April, was anxious to get to work “without any further delay,” and welcomed her to “our court and our common calling.” Her swearing-in allows her to assemble her chambers — she already has hired four law clerks — and take part in emergency petitions that come before the court this summer. She and the other justices also will review cases that might be added to the court’s docket for the term beginning in October.
Jackson’s statement read:
“With a full heart, I accept the solemn responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and administering justice without fear or favor, so help me God. I am truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great Nation. I extend my sincerest thanks to all of my new colleagues for their warm and gracious welcome. I am also especially grateful for the time and attention given to me by the Chief Justice and by Justice Breyer. Justice Breyer has been a personal friend and mentor of mine for the past two decades, in addition to being part of today’s official act. In the wake of his exemplary service, with the support of my family and friends, and ever mindful of the duty to promote the Rule of Law, I am well-positioned to serve the American people.”
Breyer, whose retirement was made official Thursday, issued a statement as well, saying Jackson’s “hard work, integrity, and intelligence have earned her a place on this Court.”
“I am glad for my fellow Justices,” he added. “They gain a colleague who is empathetic, thoughtful, and collegial. I am glad for America. Ketanji will interpret the law wisely and fairly, helping that law to work better for the American people, whom it serves.”
All of the justices attended the ceremony on their last day of the term, according to the court’s public information office, except for Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. The office did not explain his absence. Retired justice Anthony M. Kennedy and his wife were present as well, along with the spouses of Breyer and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Jackson, 51, was chosen for the court by President Biden after the 83-year-old Breyer this year announced his plans to step down. Though confirmed, she had been waiting for Breyer to finish out the final term of his four-decade judicial career.
In a statement, Biden celebrated the historic nature of Thursday’s ceremony, calling the moment “a profound step forward for our nation, for all the young Black girls who now see themselves reflected on our highest court, and for all of us as Americans.”
Jackson’s elevation from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit means that four women will simultaneously serve on the Supreme Court for the first time in its 233-year history, as close to gender parity as possible on the nine-person bench.
A liberal justice replacing another liberal won’t change the court’s ideological direction, and law professors and political scientists are divided on whether gender significantly affects legal interpretation. But those who welcome the change say it is important for representational reasons, and they assert it could bolster the public’s view of the court’s legitimacy.
On the new court, the oldest and longest-serving justice is Clarence Thomas, a 74-year-old Black man.
Moreover, Jackson’s replacement of Breyer will culminate an almost complete turnover of the Supreme Court in less than a generation. With Jackson’s arrival, the court will be composed entirely of baby boomers and Gen Xers.
In an interview with The Washington Post in May, Jackson acknowledged the pressure she would feel as a “first,” but said being an appointed judge is not the same as an elected politician.
“Obviously, law and judging is different than politics,” Jackson said. “I don’t see myself as coming with deliverables, like I was appointed to reach a certain outcome or a result or anything like that. That’s not the way law works. But I do feel it’s important for me to continue doing what I do as a judge: Writing opinions that are clear, that people understand, that are consistent with the law and legal principles.”