WASHINGTON (AP) — Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will join a Supreme Court that is more diverse and more conservative than it was before the 1930s.
The examination of the role of race in college admissions and voting rights is likely to lose a slew of important matters, which the High Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, will take to the next term.
Jackson, 51, is the first black woman confirmed by the Senate on Thursday in a 53-47 vote to the Supreme Court. She will not attend the court for several months until Justice Stephen Breyer retires, when the court wraps up its work for the summer—including the landmark Roe v. Whether to overturn Wade’s decision.
When Jackson first takes the bench as justice, in October, she will be one of four women and two black judges—both high court firsts.
And overall the nine-member court will be smaller than in nearly 30 years, when Breyer, now 83, came on board.
Former President Donald Trump has three appointments among the young judges, and the court’s historical diversity won’t obscure its conservative leanings.
In Breuer’s final term, conservative justices have already made their mark on abortion, guns, religion and climate change, deciding major cases. By a vote of 5-4 or 6-3, he allowed an unusual Texas law to remain in effect that bans abortions after about six weeks; Barred the Biden administration from requiring large employers to have a workforce that has been vaccinated or masked and tested against COVID-19; And the Alabama congressional districts have been redrawn that a lower court with two Trump appointees truncated black voters in violation of federal law.
Breyer’s replacement in Jackson, for whom he once worked as a law clerk, would not change the Supreme Court’s math.
“She’s just going to swim against the tide every day. That’s a lot,” said Robin Walker Stirling, a law professor at Northwestern University.
But Jackson’s presence could make a difference in the approach he brings and the way he expresses himself in his opinion, said Pewand Ahdaut, a law professor at the University of Virginia.
Jackson, who grew up in Miami, can view the High Court cases about race from the point of view of “being a black woman who grew up in the South. She has the opportunity to show how representation matters, Ahdout said.
During her Senate confirmation hearing, Jackson promised to sit out of court for consideration of Harvard’s admissions program, as she is a member of its board of overseers. But the court may set aside another case challenging the University of North Carolina admissions process, which could allow it to weigh in on the issue.
“Historically, the court goes to some extent to try to get as much participation as possible. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see that the two are dealt with separately,” said Ahdout, who was the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s clerk in court for the last time in the 2016 college admissions race. Only seven judges took part. In that case, because Justice Antonin Scalia had died before the decision was made and Justice Elena Kagan was involved as a Justice Department official before joining the court.
For now, Jackson doesn’t have much to do. A White House official said she remains a judge on the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, but she turned away from matters when President Joe Biden nominated her to the Supreme Court in February and will continue to do so.
This could reduce the number of times Jackson has to recuse himself from any of his past cases that later make their way to the Supreme Court.
Breyer said in January that he would retire once his successor was confirmed, but not before the end of his term. With a bare Senate majority, Democrats didn’t want to risk waiting until summer for confirmation hearings and votes.
This leaves Jackson in a position that is “unprecedented in modern times,” said Marin Levy, a law professor at Duke University who studies the federal judiciary.
Levy said most new judges start working a few days after being confirmed. Justice Brett Kavanaugh took the oath in court just hours after his tumultuous vote in the Senate.
Jackson could spend time arranging for his clerks and other staff for the Supreme Court and closing his current office.
But she won’t need to find new housing or run the lives of her husband and children. Her new workplace is less than a mile from the Court of Appeals.