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What to know about Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, now seated on the Supreme Court

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/1/2022 John Fritze, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – Ketanji Brown Jackson is a Harvard-educated attorney. She's a nine-year veteran on the federal bench. She once shared a stage with Matt Damon.

And she just became the 116th justice of the Supreme Court.

Jackson, a former public defender and Miami native, made history Thursday as she was sworn in as the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court in its 233-year history. Her ascension was praised by President Joe Biden, who nominated her in February, and was celebrated by African American women across the nation.

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Moment of pride: Black women celebrate Ketanji Brown Jackson joining Supreme Court

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Here's a look at Jackson's personal history and some highlights of her career. 

What happened at Ketanji Brown Jackson's swearing-in? 

Two oaths of office, one required by the Constitution and the other required by federal law, were administered. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the constitutional oath and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer administered the judicial oath, required by the Judiciary Act of 1789. With that, Jackson became a Supreme Court justice.

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Who did Ketanji Brown Jackson replace on the Supreme Court? 

Jackson replaced Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1994. The two have a deep connection: Jackson clerked for Breyer in the Supreme Court's 1999-2000 term. Because both justices were nominated by Democratic presidents, Jackson's appointment is not likely to upset the conservative 6-3 advantage on the court. 

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What was the reaction to Ketanji Brown Jackson's swearing-in? 

President Joe Biden described Jackson's swearing-in as 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." He said the court "gained a colleague with a world-class intellect, the dignified temperament the American people expect of a justice, and the strongest credentials imaginable."

Breyer said he was "glad for America." Jackson, he said, "will interpret the law wisely and fairly, helping that law to work better for the American people, whom it serves. Congratulations Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson."

Across the country, Black women of all ages celebrated Jackson's swearing-in. Some stopped working in offices and at home to watch on television. Others sported T-shirts bearing Jackson’s name and image. Some stood in front of the Supreme Court where Jackson will soon join other justices in considering cases on the nation’s highest court.

"Her presence up there is hope," said Cassandra Welchlin, 49, a community organizer in Jackson, Mississippi. "It brings hope to where we are, where we know we can go."

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What did Ketanji Brown Jackson say after her swearing-in? 

In a statement released by the Supreme Court, Jackson said she was "truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great nation." She thanked her new colleagues. 

"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," Jackson said. "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."

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer administers the judicial oath to Ketanji Brown Jackson while her husband, Patrick Jackson, holds the Bible on June 30, 2022. © HANDOUT, US Supreme Court/AFP via Getty I Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer administers the judicial oath to Ketanji Brown Jackson while her husband, Patrick Jackson, holds the Bible on June 30, 2022.

What was Ketanji Brown Jackson's previous job? 

Biden named Jackson last year to a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where she served until her elevation to the Supreme Court. Before that, Jackson served as a U.S. District Court judge, nominated to the bench in 2012 by President Barack Obama.

What did Ketanji Brown Jackson do before she became a judge? 

Jackson is a former federal public defender, giving her work experience rarely seen on the Supreme Court. She also served as the vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2009. The commission retroactively reduced sentencing for crack cocaine offenses during her tenure. 

How old is Ketanji Brown Jackson? 

Jackson was born on Sept. 14, 1970. She is 51 years old, which means she could serve for decades on the Supreme Court.

Where did Ketanji Brown Jackson study?  

Jackson studied government as an undergrad at Harvard and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1996. She clerked for Breyer from 1999 to 2000. 

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Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson's husband?

Justice Jackson married Patrick Jackson, a surgeon, in 1996. During her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, Dr. Jackson was seen tearfully wiping his eyes as his wife spoke of his support during her professional journey. He drew attention for sporting colorful socks with the faces of former presidents and Founding Fathers as he looked on and smiled. Patrick Jackson attended the swearing-in.

Moments: Key takeaways from Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court hearings

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Does Ketanji Brown Jackson have children?

Jackson has two daughters: Talia, a college student, and Leila, a high schooler. During Jackson's 2017 University of Georgia appearance, she quipped that her daughters were in the "full throes of teenagerdom" during her time as a federal district court judge. Chief Justice John Roberts recognized Jackson's daughters at the swearing-in. 

How has Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled as a judge? 

In an opinion in 2019, Jackson dismissed an effort by the Trump administration to speed deportations. That opinion was reversed on appeal and the case was stayed after Biden signed an order calling for a review of many of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. That same year, Jackson ruled that Trump's former White House counsel, Don McGahn, had to testify during what was then a congressional impeachment inquiry into Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.  

Jackson sided with Trump in a challenge to his border wall. And in another immigration case she ruled that federal immigration law allowed faster removals for certain people seeking asylum. 

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Is Ketanji Brown Jackson related to Paul Ryan?

Jackson is related by marriage to former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. Jackson's husband is the twin brother of Ryan's brother-in-law. The former Wisconsin lawmaker testified on Jackson's behalf when she was nominated to the federal district court in 2012.  

Does Ketanji Brown Jackson know Matt Damon?

At Harvard, actor Matt Damon was one of Jackson's scene partners in a drama course. He wouldn't remember her, she has said. However, Jackson established a lasting relationship during college. She and her husband, Patrick Jackson, met as Harvard undergraduates. They married later, as she went to Harvard Law School and he went to Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. 

What did Ted Cruz say about Ketanji Brown Jackson?

Toting a poster-sized fact sheet of child sex crime cases sentenced by Jackson, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., took aim during her confirmation hearing at sentences she imposed on sexual offenders, particularly for child pornography offenders. Those sentences were often below recommendations from the U.S. Sentencing Commission

"I'm asking you to take the opportunity to explain to this committee and the American people why in 100% of the cases you have people with vile crimes – and you have language saying they're vile crimes – but then you sentenced them to very, very low sentences," Cruz said. 

Sentencing: A look at the child pornography cases at issue in Jackson's hearings

Democrats and independent experts said Jackson's sentences were within the norm, noting that most judges sentence child porn crimes below the guidelines and that even the Sentencing Commission itself has recommended an update to the guidelines.     

Did Ketanji Brown Jackson pick up Republican support? 

Jackson was confirmed by the Senate 53-47 in April. She picked up three Republican votes: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. The timing left Jackson in the unusual situation of waiting for several months to actually join the Supreme Court. She will take her seat in the ornate courtroom for the first time in October, when the court starts its 2022-2023 term. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What to know about Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, now seated on the Supreme Court

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