HomeLearning CenterIn Her First Term, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson ‘Came to Play’

In Her First Term, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson ‘Came to Play’

Originally published by Adam Liptak for The New York Times

From her first week on the Supreme Court bench in October to the final day of the term that ended last week, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson did something remarkable for a junior justice: She established herself as a distinctive voice on the court.

“She was not cowed by her surroundings or the historical import of her appointment,” said Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University. “She came to play.”

Other justices have spoken about taking years to find their footing at the court, but Justice Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, wasted no time.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. did not write his first solo dissent in an argued case until 16 years into his tenure. Justice Jackson issued three such dissents in her first term.

“Justice Jackson really hit the ground running,” said Pamela S. Karlan, a law professor at Stanford. “And the lines are pretty sharply drawn between her and the majority on criminal justice issues as well as racial justice issues.”

On her second day of arguments, she set out a sort of mission statement, asking a long series of questions about the history of the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War and meant to protect formerly enslaved Black people. “That’s not a race-neutral or race-blind idea,” she said.

In focusing on the original meaning of the amendment, she adapted a conservative method to press for a liberal result. When the court issued its 5-to-4 decision in the case, on voting rights in Alabama, she was on the winning side.

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