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  • Kimberley Guillemet

World Changer of the Month — July 2022: Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Miami, Florida, Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson was raised by her parents, Johnny Brown, a lawyer, and Ellery Brown, a school principal. Her parents wanted to honor their ancestry and asked a relative serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa for a list of African names for their daughter. The name they selected, Ketanji Onyika, means "lovely one."

Despite excelling in school, being nominated the “mayor” of her high school and earning the designation of “most likely to succeed,” Justice Brown Jackson’s guidance counselor discouraged her from setting her sights on Harvard University. Notwithstanding the discouragement from her counselor, Justice Brown Jackson attended Harvard University for college and law school, where she served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Prior to law school, she spent a year working for Time magazine and serving as an intern for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

Justice Brown Jackson began her legal career with three clerkships, including one with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. Prior to her elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, she served as a district judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia from 2013 to 2021. Justice Brown Jackson was also vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission from 2010 to 2014. Since 2016, she has been a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers.

Justice Brown Jackson and her husband, Patrick, have two daughters: Talia and Leila. In 2016, Leila wrote a letter to President Obama recommending her mother for the Supreme Court vacancy that was a result of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

Nominated by President Joe Biden in 2021, Justice Brown Jackson succeeded Justice Breyer upon his retirement from the court on June 30, 2022. Upon her swearing in, she became the first Black woman and the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.

After her confirmation, Justice Brown Jackson was quoted as saying the following: “It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, but we've made it! We've made it — all of us."


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