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Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson? A likely Biden short-lister for Supreme Court

As a presidential candidate in 2020, Biden promised to nominate a Black woman for the court for the first time.
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WASHINGTON — Many progressives expect federal appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to shoot to the top of the short list of possible Supreme Court nominees after Justice Stephen Breyer's impending retirement.

As a candidate in 2020, President Joe Biden promised to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court for the first time in U.S. history. Jackson is seen in Democratic circles as a short-lister — if not a front-runner — for the nomination.

Biden has already given Jackson a vote of confidence. Last year, he elevated her to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is considered one of the most important federal panels and has been a regular feeder to the Supreme Court.

The Senate confirmed Jackson, a Harvard Law School graduate, to the D.C. Circuit in June by a vote of 53-44, with the support of all 50 Democratic-voting senators and three Republicans: Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

IMAGE: Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson, then a nominee for the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., was sworn in April 28 to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on judicial nominations.Kevin Lamarque / Pool via Getty Images file

NBC News reported Wednesday that Breyer intends to retire at the end of the term. The Supreme Court did not immediately announce his plans.

Democrats need only 50 Senate votes to confirm a new justice, and the recent record of party unity behind Jackson could work in her favor when the White House considers its options. She was already seen as a future Supreme Court prospect when the Senate voted on her nomination in June and Republicans were unable to generate enough controversy to sink her nomination.

Jackson fits well with the Democratic Party and the progressive movement's agenda. At 51, she is young enough to hold the seat for decades. She has a background as a public defender and worked on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Her labor-friendly rulings as a judge have drawn praise.

She has also clerked on the Supreme Court, including for Breyer.

In March, the executive director of the courts-focused group Demand Justice, Brian Fallon, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide, said, “I’d expect her to be the lead candidate for a Supreme Court vacancy in the event that Justice Breyer retires.”

In a twist, Jackson is related by marriage to Republican former House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Her husband’s twin brother married Ryan's sister.

Other names will also be floated in the coming weeks.

Another prospect is U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2010 and is backed by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a prominent Biden ally.

A third is California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, who was the principal deputy U.S. solicitor general during the Obama administration.