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Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to be first Black woman on U.S. Supreme Court

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Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to be first Black woman on U.S. Supreme Court
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson makes remarks after President Joe Biden announced her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 25 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Friday announced his nomination of federal appellate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, praising her for her "extraordinary qualifications."

Biden said late last month that he would follow through on a campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to the high court, and that he would announce his choice before the end of February. Her nomination comes after Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement.

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Biden had appointed Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last summer.

"Today, as we watch freedom and liberty under attack abroad, I'm here to fulfill my responsibilities under the Constitution, to preserve freedom and liberty here in the United States of America," Biden said during remarks at the White House.

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"For too long, our government, our courts haven't looked like America. I believe it's time that we have a court [that] reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level."

Jackson offered her thanks to God and a "supportive and loving family" in her own remarks at the White House.

"Among my many blessings, and the very first, is the fact that I was born in this great country," she said. "The United States of America is the greatest beacon of hope and democracy the world has ever known."

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Jackson noted that while she has supportive parents and an uncle in law enforcement, she also has an uncle who has had some legal trouble -- perhaps an attempt to get ahead of possible criticisms by Biden's opponents in Congress.

"I have one uncle who got caught up in the drug trade and received a life sentence -- that is true," she said.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to serve as U.S. vice president, also attended the ceremony.

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Jackson, 51, was one of several potential candidates to succeed Breyer, along with California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and South Carolina District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs.

Biden's nomination is historic. No Black woman has ever been nominated to serve on the nation's high court -- and Jackson, if confirmed, would be the sixth woman appointed to the bench.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, then a nominee to be a judge on the U.S. District of Columbia Circuit, testifies before a Senate judiciary committee hearing on her appointment by President Joe Biden, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2021. File Photo by Kevin Lamarque/UPI

"Judge Jackson will bring to the Supreme Court what it has lacked for 233 years -- the lived experience of a Black woman," Jotaka Eaddy, founder of the advocacy group Win With Black Women, said in a statement emailed to UPI.

Eaddy said the Supreme Court bench has "long been covered by a cement ceiling."

"Today that ceiling is shattered into a million pieces," she added.

The D.C. appeals court on which Jackson serves has previously seen seven of its judges move up to the Supreme Court, including Brett Kavanaugh, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts and Clarence Thomas.

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Biden appointed Jackson to the appellate court last June. Before that, she was a judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for seven years after serving for four as vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission. She was also Biden's first appointment to the federal appellate courts and was confirmed by the Senate 53-44 last summer -- with Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joining Democrats in voting to confirm her.

Breyer, 83, announced his decision to retire from the high court bench last month. He was appointed by former President Bill Clinton in 1994 to replace the retiring Harry Blackmun.

Then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks at the White House after President Donald Trump introduced her as his choice to join the high court bench, in Washington, D.C., on September 26, 2020. She replaced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died eight days earlier. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

All members of the Supreme Court are appointed for life. Most usually serve on the bench until their death, but some have opted to retire. It's believed that at least part of the reason for Breyer's retirement is to guarantee that he'll be replaced with another liberal justice -- avoiding the possibility that he could die during a Republican administration and his successor is chosen by a Republican president, which would put liberal justices at a perilous 2-7 disadvantage on the court.

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Calls for Breyer to retire grew exponentially after the liberal Ginsburg died in September 2020 and Trump replaced her -- quickly before the presidential election that ultimately put Biden in the White House -- with conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Ginsburg's sudden death and Barrett's speedy appointment inflated the Supreme Court's conservative majority from 5-4 to 6-3. Including Biden's nomination, Republican presidents have appointed 14 of the last 19 high court justices.

"This is a complicated country," Breyer said during his announcement last month. "There's more than 330 million people, and my mother used to say it's every race, it's every religion -- and she would emphasize this -- and it's every point of view possible.

"And it's a kind of miracle when you sit there and see all these people in front of you. People that are so different in what they think, and yet they've decided to help solve their major differences under law."

Biden took several weeks to mull possible candidates and met with congressional leaders to gauge support and sentiment from both Democrats and Republicans. The nomination will be Biden's first.

Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices in only one term and former President Barack Obama appointed two, both women. Franklin D. Roosevelt put more justices on the high court bench than any other president -- nine -- but he served for 12 years in the White House before the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limited presidents to a maximum of two terms over eight years.

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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire: a look back

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaks as the U.S. Mint launches the Chief Justice John Marshall silver dollar on May 4, 2005, in Washington. Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI | License Photo

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