By Leslie Nash
Even in preschool Ketanji Brown Jackson loved the law. Growing up, she watched in admiration as her law-student father read cases and prepared for the Socratic questioning he would face. Both of her parents attended HBCUs and worked in the Miami–Dade School District. Her father, Johnny Brown, Esq., as chief attorney for the school board; and her mother, Ellery, as principal at New World School of the Arts. A debate team star at Palmetto Junior High, she was selected as a school “mayor.” It was in high school that she set her sights on a legal career. President of her class at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, and voted “most likely to succeed,” it seemed she had already planned her path to greatness.
Unfortunately, sometimes great dreamers meet dream killers. Jackson’s high school guidance counselor warned her not to set her goals too high because she couldn’t make it far in the justice system. Jackson shut down all negative criticisms graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University and cum laude from Harvard Law School, where she was supervising editor for the Harvard Law Review.
After Harvard, she clerked with three different jurists including Justice Breyer—in whose seat she will sit if confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. At the law firm of Goodwin Procter, Jackson represented clients in criminal and civil appellate matters. She argued big cases such as McGuire vs. Reilly in front of the Supreme Court, representing Massachusetts reproductive rights groups seeking to uphold the prohibition of allowing anti-abortion protestors to harass people in need of reproductive healthcare.
In 2003, Jackson returned to public service as an Assistant Special Counsel for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency created by Congress to address the injustice in federal courts. She continued her work in public service as an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the District of Columbia, where she represented low-income criminal appellants before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Nominated by President Obama to serve on the District Court for the District of Columbia, Jackson was confirmed with bipartisan support. After President Biden’s nomination in 2021 to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Judge Jackson received dozens of letters in support of her nomination, which helped pave the way for her nomination as a Supreme Court Justice.
Though it may seem Jackson has led a charmed life, it wasn’t always the case. Hard work, dedication, and focus on her goals were uppermost in her plan. In an interview with The Washington Post, she said she felt the “slings and arrows” of bias, yet decided not to care about “slights and misperceptions and underestimations that came my way. What I do remember is often thinking, ‘Hmm, well, I’ll show them.’” Indeed.