Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first former public defender and the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. Her confirmation marks the first time White males will be a minority on the bench.
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was the last person who was a defense attorney before joining the highest court in the land. According to The Hill, Brown Jackson’s appointment “has energized criminal justice reformers who believe it’s time for the high court to have a justice who has represented the legal system’s most vulnerable defendants.”
The March 20 story noted that the Supreme Court established the public defender system with its precedent-setting decision Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). The decision mandated that states provide counsel for criminal defendants who could not afford a lawyer.
Radhika Singh of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association told The Hill, “To have someone who has seen day to day how the legal system either treats or effects or even pulls people into the system because of their level of poverty is something we haven’t seen on the court and it’s a perspective that’s missing.”
Singh said the presence of a judge who practiced as a public defender can restore trust in the rule of law and the execution of the judicial system in its entirety.
The Cato Institute’s Clark Neily said that former prosecutors, and attorneys who never represented a criminal defendant in their careers, are disproportionately represented on the bench. He believes the imbalance has caused judicial blind spots.
Neily added, “If you have a wildly disproportionate number of people who have sought out work that involves putting human beings in cages … it seems likely that they’ll have sort of a greater level of comfort doing that when they get on the bench.”
Georgetown law Professor Abbe Smith described the Supreme Court as “a kind of bully pulpit, (that) can have enormous impact on the way judges in our states and localities rule in criminal cases.”
Neidig stated Justice Jackson’s appointment encourages criminal justice reformers by creating hope that she could become a catalyst from the bench that can advance their movement forward.
Smith agreed with the new hope given to criminal defendants, their families, loved ones and their communities. But they reminded America of Brown Jackson’s uphill battle to implement social reform: “Even in dissent, (Brown Jackson) can have an impact.”