On January 27, 2022, Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement after serving nearly 30 years on the highest judicial bench in the United States. Currently, the Supreme Court holds a conservative majority of six to three, with this newest vacancy offering President Biden the opportunity to make good on his campaign promise of appointing the first Black female Supreme Court Justice in history.
As it stands, the three women who rank among the most likely candidates for selection include Ketanji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger and Michelle Childs, nominees who all possess a well-rounded, varying list of professional legal experience and career credentials. In the following article, Best Lawyers offers some key insight on each nominee ahead of Biden’s final decision, a choice that will determine the Supreme Court’s structure for years to come.
Ketanji Brown Jackson
Jackson, 51, is considered to hold to most complete resume out of the shortlist nominees. Currently serving as a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, a position held by three former justices, Jackson spent her formative legal years working as an assistant federal public defender in Washington D.C. Additionally, she also served as a staff attorney, eventually fulfilling the role of commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she worked to drastically reverse incarcerations laws for drug offenders. Before joining the Commission, Jackson practiced law at Morrison & Foerster LLP, where she practiced criminal and civil appellate litigation. If nominated, Jackson would become only the second Supreme Court justice in history to have former criminal defense experience, the first being Thurgood Marshall.
Kruger, 45, may hold a less extensive legal resume, but it still stands to impress. Formerly working as a law clerk under late Justice John Paul Stevens, Kruger amassed a total of 12 Supreme Court cases, all of which she argued as the lead litigator. In 2015, former California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Kruger to sit on the state’s Supreme Court. Kruger worked as an associate in the early 2000s at Jenner & Block. If nominated, Kruger would go on to become the second Supreme Court justice in history, behind retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, to offer the bench state court judicial experience.
Childs, 55, is a South Carolina-based judge, who in early December was nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. Currently, she is being backed by State Representative James Clyburn, an influential Democrat working within the House since 1993. As it stands, Childs remains the only nominee included on the shortlist to draw praise from a growing list of South Carolina-based Republicans, namely Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott. Childs spent the early part of her legal career as associate at both Nexsen Pruet Jacobs and Pollard Law. In addition to offering bipartisan support to the bench, if nominated Childs would be the first justice in decades to have graduated from a public law institution, a role too often assumed by an Ivy League graduate.