Ketanji Brown Jackson: five things you may not know about the US Supreme Court hopeful

The nominated judge met Matt Damon at Harvard and knits to relieve stress

US Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn-in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee
Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn in at confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee
(Image credit: Sha Hanting/China News Service via Getty Images)

Ketanji Brown Jackson has told the committee who will decide whether she becomes the first black woman to sit on the US Supreme Court that she will apply the law “without fear or favour”.

Joe Biden last month announced her nomination as the replacement for retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, but the Senate Judiciary Committee has the power to “advance or sink” the president’s choice, said the BBC. “If successful, she will be considered by the full Senate.”

But Republicans were expected to make life difficult for Jackson during four days of confirmation hearings that kicked off yesterday. “There’s gonna be some very pointed questions about her record,” former Democratic senator Doug Jones of Alabama told CNN.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Here are five insights into the 51-year-old judge’s life.

Childhood dream to be judge

One of Jackson’s earliest memories is of sitting with her colouring in books beside her then-law student father in the evenings while he studied. “There really is no question that my interest in the law began that early on,” she told an audience at the University of Georgia during a 2017 lecture.

Uncle jailed for life

When she was at college, one of Brown’s uncles was sentenced to life in prison for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. But his drugs conviction “in the rough-and-tumble Miami of the 1980s formed only part of her early understanding of the criminal justice system’s complexities”, said The New York Times.

Another of her uncles was Miami’s police chief, and a third was a sex crimes detective, while “her younger brother worked for the Baltimore police in undercover drug stings”, the paper reported.

Studied drama with Matt Damon

Jackson studied at Harvard in Massachusetts, where the winters were, in her words, “unbearable”. But she loved the university, where she took a drama class in which fellow students included now-Hollywood star Matt Damon.

“Although I was pretty good, I doubt he’d remember me now,” she said during her University of Georgia lecture.

Knits to calm nerves

Jackson learned to knit in 2009, after Barack Obama nominated her to become a member of the US Sentencing Commission, the judicial agency that develops federal sentencing policy.

The nomination and confirmation process was “nerve-racking”, she explained during her 2017 lecture. “I actually taught myself to knit as a way to channel my nervous energy during that time,” said Brown, who added that she was “unusually jumpy and started so many scarves that I could have outfitted a small army”.

Three secrets to her success

The Supreme Court nominee has credited her success to “hard work, big breaks and tough skin”.

During a 2020 speech at the University of Chicago, she said: “I sincerely believe that the greatest gift that my parents bestowed upon me at a very early age is thick skin.

“As a dark-skinned black girl who was often the only person of colour in my class, club, or social environment, my parents knew that it was essential that I develop a sense of my own self worth that was in no way dependent on what others thought about my abilities.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.