Today, June 30, the nation watched as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as an associate justice to the Supreme Court, establishing her as the first Black woman ever confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court. This historic appointment to the highest court in the United States signifies a shift in the landscape of the federal judiciary, ensuring that the richness and diversity of our country are represented in all three branches of the U.S. government. Not only will Jackson make history as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, but she will also be the first federal public defender to serve on the court. 

“Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson embodies the hopes and dreams of so many people,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “This moment in American history—living history— is a milestone not just for her but for this nation, revealing the ways justice moves and evolves. Her seat on the country’s highest court embodies a rich tradition of African American opportunity sought and achieved.”

Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., in 1970. Her parents, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, were public school teachers who moved the family to Miami, where Jackson grew up. She graduated from Harvard-Radcliffe College in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, in government and then worked for a year as a reporter and researcher at Time magazine. She went on to earn her Juris Doctor, cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where she was a supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review.

After law school, Jackson clerked for three federal judges: Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Bruce M. Selya of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Jackson has been confirmed three times by the Senate, twice unanimously. 

When she takes her place on the bench in October, following Breyer’s retirement, white men will not be the majority for the first time in the history of the Supreme Court, and women will have near parity. She also will bring a collection of skills not yet seen on the Supreme Court: a background as a public defender and as a criminal defense attorney. 

Her years as a highly respected district judge gave her a solid foundation for this confirmation. Jackson is building upon the legacy and efforts of African American women who have worked toward the goal of “lifting as we climb,” across generations.

About the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 7.5 million in-person visitors and millions more through its digital presence. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.

Media Contacts

Cierra Jefferson

Melissa Wood

Share this page