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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives on the third day of her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court on March 23, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

1,000+ Public Defenders Say Jackson's Background Would Be 'Incalculable Asset' to Court

A Supreme Court justice with public defender experience would "send an important message especially to young and aspiring lawyers about the type of legal experience our country values," reads on open letter.

Julia Conley

More than 1,000 former and current public defenders from across the country are calling on the U.S. Senate to swiftly confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, saying her experience working as a public defender would bring a "sorely needed" perspective to the nine-judge panel.

"Too often, past presidents have communicated through their Supreme Court nominations that in order to be appointed to the nation's highest court, a lawyer should spend his or her career working at a corporate law firm or as a prosecutor."

Having spent two years as a federal public defender as well as serving as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Jackson would be the only former public defender in U.S. history to serve on the high court, and would be the only justice in more than three decades to have experience in criminal defense.

"Judge Jackson's firsthand experience as a public defender will be an incalculable asset to a court that has lacked this critical perspective for too long," reads the letter, which was released by court reform advocacy group Demand Justice on Tuesday.

"A public defender justice also would send an important message especially to young and aspiring lawyers about the type of legal experience our country values," added the signatories, who have worked in public defense in all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. "Too often, past presidents have communicated through their Supreme Court nominations that in order to be appointed to the nation's highest court, a lawyer should spend his or her career working at a corporate law firm or as a prosecutor. By confirming Judge Jackson, you would make clear that you believe defending the rights of people who cannot afford a lawyer is just as valuable as representing the rich and powerful."

Jackson would also bring more experience as a trial judge than any other Supreme Court justice in the last 100 years, which, she said Tuesday during her confirmation hearing, has been informed by her background representing defendants who could not afford to hire a lawyer.

"What I decided as a trial judge was that I was going to make sure everyone who was in my courtroom, especially the defendant, understood all of the procedures that we were going through, all of the steps," Jackson told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I spoke directly to them, I asked them, 'Do you understand what's happening?' because I wanted them to know."

The judge also spoke on Wednesday about what drove her to work as a public defender, representing criminal defendants and detainees at Guantánamo Bay—experience which has been the target of attacks from Republican lawmakers including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) this week.

"To defend our country and its values we also needed to make sure that when we responded as a country to the terrible attacks on 9/11, we were upholding our constitutional values," said Jackson.

Jackson, the public defenders wrote, "has demonstrated through her nearly 10 years as a judge that she is fair, impartial, and evenhanded, rendering decisions by applying the facts and the law."

The letter was released amid widespread condemnation of Republican senators' questioning of Jackson, including Sen. Josh Hawley's (R-Mo.) suggestion that the judge has been too lenient in sentencing people convicted of child pornography offenses, Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) questioning of Jackson's views on books that teach children about anti-racism, and Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) frequent interruptions of the judge and aggressive questions about the 2018 confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

During her hearings, Demand Justice said Tuesday, Jackson has "showed the poise, brilliance, and preparation that will make her an extraordinary justice."

"She stood strong for the principle that every American accused of a crime gets a lawyer," the group added, "and that public defenders do a service to the Constitution."


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