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Since Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced last month that he would retire, court watchers have identified a short list of potential contenders for the seat– particularly based on President Joe Biden’s promise to name a Black woman to the nation’s highest court.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, J. Michelle Childs and Leondra Kruger have all been discussed as possible nominees for the Supreme Court. Biden’s nominee, the first of his presidency, will face a Senate confirmation process after she is named.
The PBS NewsHour’s Geoff Bennett and Lisa Desjardins talked to those who knew and worked with each of the judges that may be considered.
Read more about them below.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in Florida. She was president of the debate team in high school, to which she attributes much of her early success. She went on to earn honors degrees from Harvard and Harvard Law.
Early in her career, she attained three federal clerkships, including one under Justice Stephen Breyer, who she could now possibly replace. Unusual among the Supreme Court, Jackson became a public defender and would go on to become vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. On the commission, she fought for more racially equitable drug penalties.
She was nominated to the federal bench in 2012. During this time, she sentenced the man who fired his gun in a D.C. pizza shop due to his belief in the so-called Pizzagate conspiracy.
Jackson was a longshot pick of sorts back in 2016 when former President Barack Obama was looking to fill a vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Today, she’s considered a leading contender.
READ MORE: Why Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a leading candidate for the Supreme Court
Judge J. Michelle Childs was born in Detroit and moved to South Carolina as a child. After excelling in high school, she won a full scholarship to the University of Florida for her undergraduate degree and then attended the University of South Carolina School of Law–also with a full scholarship.
After graduation, she joined the private law firm of Nexsen Pruet in South Carolina, where she later became the first Black woman to be a partner in a major law firm in the state. She eventually left the firm to take high-ranking jobs at the state’s Department of Labor and then the Workers’ Compensation Commission. In 2006, the South Carolina state legislature elected her as a state judge.
In 2010, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed her as a federal judge. During this time, she notably ruled in favor of two women seeking to have their marriage recognized, declaring South Carolina’s refusal a violation of constitutional rights– all one year before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld same-sex marriages.
Some progressives, however, have criticized her work, saying she represented employers against employees. But in the two years she worked in South Carolina’s Labor Department, the PBS NewsHour found that reported workplace injuries went down and that Childs did some groundbreaking work to support migrant workers in the state.
READ MORE: Examining the career of J. Michelle Childs, a top contender for the Supreme Court
Judge Leondra Kruger grew up in Los Angeles where she was raised by parents who were both doctors. Her mother immigrated from Jamaica and her father is the son of European Jewish immigrants.
She completed her undergraduate at Harvard and then moved on to Yale Law School, where she became the first Black woman to serve as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.
Kruger then clerked for the late Justice John Paul Stevens, a long-serving liberal justice in the U.S. Supreme Court. Later, she became an advocate for the United States government in the Solicitor General’s office for a period under both Democratic and Republican presidents. She argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court– more than any other Black woman in history.
She eventually left the Department of Justice to join the California Supreme Court. She was unanimously confirmed by a committee that included the then-Attorney General for California, Kamala Harris. Kruger took the bench in 2015, becoming only the second Black woman to do so, and wrote opinions on many issues including access to police body cameras, police searches during traffic stops and the death penalty.
It’s rare for state Supreme Court judges to move directly into the U.S. Supreme Court. It hasn’t happened since Judge Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981. Another difference between Kruger and other nominees – at 45, she’d be the youngest nominee in more than 30 years and could be in a position to influence the court for much longer than other nominees.
READ MORE: Exploring the life of Justice Leondra Kruger, a potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee
The PBS NewsHour’s Geoff Bennett, Tess Conciatori, Lisa Desjardins and Ebony Joseph contributed to this report.
Justin Stabley is a digital editor at the PBS NewsHour.
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