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Supreme Court holds investiture ceremony for Ketanji Brown Jackson

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris attended the ceremonial event for Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday hosted a formal investiture ceremony for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the court, with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both in attendance.

Jackson, appointed by Biden to replace fellow liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, who retired in June, was sworn in in July and has already been participating fully in the court's activities. As such, Friday's event was purely a formality. She is now part of the three-member liberal minority on the court, which is dominated, 6-3, by conservatives.

Speaking later in the day at a Library of Congress event, Jackson referred to the historic nature of her appointment, stressing the importance of representation for Black people, women and other groups historically excluded from power in the U.S.

“People from all walks of life approach me with what I can only describe as a profound sense of pride and what feels to me like renewed ownership. I can see it in their eyes. I can hear it in their voices. They stare at me as if to say, ‘Look at what we’ve done,’” she said.

“They say, ‘This is what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it.’ They might not use those words, but I get the message. They’re calling on the ancestors, hearkening back to history and claiming their stake at last. They are saying to me, in essence, 'You go, girl,'” she added.

Jackson is the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and is the sixth woman to serve on the court. For the first time, the Supreme Court has four women serving as justices at the same time.

During the short ceremony at the court, Chief Justice John Roberts made brief remarks, telling Jackson it was "my pleasure to extend to you a very warm welcome."

Jackson on Friday initially sat in a chair that was once used by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 19th century, and that has been used for investitures since 1972. Roberts then invited her to join the other justices behind the bench where he administered the judicial oath. The ceremony ended with Jackson taking her seat on the far right of the bench, as is customary for the most junior justice.

Biden and Harris sat with other dignitaries in the courtroom, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several senators. Biden and Harris also met briefly with the justices before the ceremony, a court spokeswoman said. Breyer and fellow retired justice Anthony Kennedy were also present.

President Jose Biden, Jr., Vice President Kamala Harris, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson at a courtesy visit in the Justices’ Conference Room prior to the investiture ceremony on on Sept. 30, 2022.
President Joe Biden, Jr., Vice President Kamala Harris, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson at a courtesy visit in the Justices’ Conference Room prior to the investiture ceremony on on Sept. 30, 2022.Fred Schilling / Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Spouses of the current justices were among those at the event, including Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the wife of conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who has questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election and gave evidence Thursday to the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

The court's new nine-month term begins Monday, with the justices taking up a series of contentious cases, including several touching upon race. The court announced Wednesday that members of the public will be able to attend oral arguments for the first time since the pandemic led to a shutdown in March 2020. The court will continue to provide an audio livestream of arguments, a development introduced during the pandemic.