Breyer Out, Jackson In at Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson (Reuters)
June 30, 2022

Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court at noon on Thursday, following completion of the Court’s term.

Court business has eclipsed the historic nature of Jackson’s confirmation. This month, the justices overturned Roe v. Wade, recognized the constitutional right to carry firearms for self-defense, and dealt religious schools a long-sought victory on voucher eligibility. Those developments followed President Joe Biden to a NATO summit in Madrid, where he denounced the Court on the world stage for its "outrageous behavior."

"With a full heart, I accept the solemn responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution and administering justice without fear or favor," Jackson said in a short statement released from the Court. "I extend my sincerest thanks to all of my new colleagues for their warm and gracious welcome."

The Court’s upcoming term, which begins in October, is packed with opportunities for Jackson to assert herself if she so chooses. The Court will decide cases involving redistricting, election procedures, a Christian website designer who declined to set up wedding websites for same-sex couples, and the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal statute prized by tribes.

While the new justice recused herself from a landmark challenge to affirmative action practices at Harvard, she can still participate in a companion case in which the University of North Carolina is the defendant.

Jackson’s arrival might relieve the Court of its late internal tensions. Decisions on abortion, gun rights, free exercise, and agency power have deeply divided the justices. Anger even surfaced in an intra-conservative spat over an Indian law case on Wednesday, as Justice Neil Gorsuch handed down an excoriating dissent to a majority opinion Justice Brett Kavanaugh authored.

And court officials are still running down the unprecedented leak of a draft majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, a breach surely received as a personal betrayal in the familial setting of the Court.

The abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, featured a joint dissent from the three liberal justices that pointedly put the screws to the Court’s three Trump appointees. The dissenters wrote that abortion precedent was changing simply by dint of numbers, rather than principled legal reasons.

"It is impossible to conclude that anything else has happened here," they wrote. "One of us once said that it is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much."

That person was Stephen Breyer, whom Jackson now succeeds.