By MARK SHERMAN and MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson will join a Supreme Court that is both more diverse than ever and more conservative than it has been since the 1930s.
She is likely to be on the losing side in a number of important cases, including inquiries into race’s role in college admissions and voting rights, which the Supreme Court, with its conservative 6-3 majority, will take up next term.
Jackson, 51, is the first black woman confirmed in the Supreme Court after Thursday’s Senate vote, 53-47. She will not join the court for several months until Justice Stephen Breyer retires, once the court has completed its work for the summer – including its ruling on whether the landmark Roe v. Wade verdict on abortion rights to be overturned.
When Jackson first comes to the bench as a judge in October, she will be one of four women and two black judges – both first in the High Court.
And the nine-strong court will be younger than it had been for almost 30 years when Breyer, now 83, came on board.
Among the younger judges are three appointments from former President Donald Trump, and the court’s historical diversity will not mask its conservative leanings.
In Breyer’s last term, conservative judges have already made their mark before deciding big cases on abortion, guns, religion and climate change. By a 5-4 or 6-3 vote, they allowed an unusual Texas law banning abortions at about six weeks to remain in effect; prevented the Biden administration from requiring major employers to vaccinate or mask and test their workforce for COVID-19; and left newly drawn Alabama congressional districts that a lower court with two Trump appointees found underrepresented black voters violated federal law.
Jackson’s replacement of Breyer, for whom she once worked as a court clerk, will not change that Supreme Court math.
“She’s just going to swim against the tide every day. That’s a lot to deal with,” said Robin Walker Sterling, law professor at Northwestern University.
But Jackson’s presence could make a difference in the perspective she brings and how she expresses her opinions, said Payvand Ahdout, a law professor at the University of Virginia.
Jackson, who grew up in Miami, could see the High Court’s race cases “through the lens of a black woman who grew up in the South. She has an early opportunity to show the importance of representation,” said Ahdout.
During her Senate confirmation hearing, Jackson vowed to stay the court’s review of Harvard’s admissions program because she is a member of the board of trustees. But the court could split off a second case involving a challenge to the University of North Carolina’s admissions process, which could allow her to comment on the issue.
“In the past, the court has tried to get as much involvement as possible. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the two were dealt with separately,” said Ahdout, who was a clerk to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg the last time the court considered racial admissions in college admissions in 2016. Only seven judges participated in this case because Justice Antonin Scalia died before a decision was made and Justice Elena Kagan was involved as a Justice Department official before joining the court.
Jackson may not have much to do at the moment. She remains a judge on the federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, but resigned from cases there when President Joe Biden nominated her for the Supreme Court in February and will continue to do so, a White House official said.
That could reduce the number of times Jackson has to pull out of one of her old cases that later make their way to the Supreme Court.
Breyer said in January that he would retire after his successor was confirmed, but not before the end of the term. With a narrow Senate majority, Democrats were unwilling to risk waiting until the summer for confirmation and voting hearings.
That puts Jackson in a situation “unprecedented in this day and age,” said Marin Levy, a Duke University law professor who studies federal justice.
Most new judges begin work a few days after they are confirmed, Levy said. Judge Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in just hours after his tumultuous Senate vote.
Jackson could spend time organizing her staff and other staff for the Supreme Court and closing down her current office.
But she doesn’t have to look for a new place to live or turn the lives of her husband and children upside down. Her new job is less than a mile from the Court of Appeals.
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