Judges are a common sight at judicial swearing-in ceremonies in Washington's federal courthouse, but yesterday's investiture for U.S. District Judge Ketanji Jackson featured a special guest from several blocks away: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
Breyer administered the oath of office, calling Jackson, who served as his law clerk, part of the "court family." Sporting a sling for his right arm after suffering a recent cycling injury, Breyer joked the ceremony was truly a family affair, noting he received treatment at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, where Jackson's husband is a surgeon.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Jackson on March 22. Prior to her appointment, she served as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission; she filled the seat vacated by now-retired U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy.
Two other judges Jackson clerked for – Jackson referred to the group as "my judges" – were also on hand for the celebration: Judge Patti Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts and Senior Judge Bruce Selya of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, who sent his remarks via video.
Saris said it was a "no-brainer" to hire Jackson as a clerk. As colleagues years later on the sentencing commission, where Saris serves as chair, Saris said Jackson showed meticulous attention to detail and strong writing skills. Selya said that even as a young clerk, Jackson was mature in her understanding of the role of the law and the courts in society. He said Jackson's new colleagues on the bench should know she "will make a strong bench even stronger."
Two of Jackson's former colleagues also spoke, Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer and Brian Matsui, a partner at Morrison & Foerster. Kramer drew laughs as he explained Jackson's love of reality television, and praised her "brilliant" briefs and strong skills as an advocate when she served as a lawyer in the defender office's appellate section.
Kramer called Jackson "unflappable," a sentiment Matsui echoed; Jackson was of counsel at Morrison after leaving the federal public defender's office. "Nothing ever fazed Ketanji," Matsui said, recalling her ability to look at the bigger picture behind cases they were arguing.
U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who recommended Jackson to the White House for consideration, said Jackson "shined." Tony West, acting associate attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, presented the commission to Jackson. After reading the formal proclamation, he added that he believed Jackson would "build a legacy of justice."
Jackson grew emotional as she thanked the judges, lawyers, family and friends who helped her over the years. "It takes a village to make a judge," she said.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.