How Biden Chose Ketanji Brown Jackson as His Supreme Court Nominee

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When President Biden and his advisers began planning for a possible Supreme Court vacancy during the presidential transition, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was brought up as one of the likeliest possibilities.

Mr. Biden’s decision on Friday to choose her for his first nominee made it clear that she never left the top of the list.

Plans to move her into position began last year, when Mr. Biden elevated her from the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a feeder team for potential justices. It was an early test of her appeal to Republican senators in an evenly divided Senate. She won the support of three.

When Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the senior member of the court’s three-member liberal wing, announced last month that he would retire, White House officials began to extensively research at least four other jurists who could fulfill his campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to the court. But according to several people familiar with the process who were not authorized to speak publicly about it, the prevailing sense was that Judge Jackson was the most logical choice.

As Mr. Biden continued to deliberate this week, concern grew among White House allies that waiting until the end of his self-imposed deadline at the end of the month would deprive a historic nominee of her due, sandwiching her between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Mr. Biden’s State of the Union address. And Democrats in Congress worried that dragging out the announcement heightened the risk that a nominee could not be confirmed before a scheduled two-week recess in early April.

White House officials have pushed back on the idea that Judge Jackson was always the favorite, and according to a person who worked with another one of the candidates, officials in the White House counsel’s officer were placing follow-up calls on two other potential nominees — Leondra R. Kruger of the California Supreme Court and Judge J. Michelle Childs, a Federal District Court judge in South Carolina — until at least late on Wednesday.

By Thursday, Mr. Biden, had decided. He called Judge Jackson on Thursday evening to offer her the nomination, and she accepted.

Judge Jackson’s ability to garner Republican votes made her an attractive candidate to the president, but his advisers said that he wanted to choose someone who was in the mold of the justice she would be replacing. Judge Jackson is a former Breyer clerk, and he has been a vocal supporter of hers throughout her career.

Several White House officials, including Ron Klain, the chief of staff, and Dana Remus, the White House counsel, have extensive experience with the court, and helped him make his final decision.


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