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Biden is expected to nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden has announced his pick to become the next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. In a tweet, the president said federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is his nominee. If confirmed by the Senate, Judge Brown Jackson would become the first Black woman to serve on the high court. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is with us now. Hi, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there, Rachel.

MARTIN: So breaking news this morning - he has named his nominee. What can you tell us about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson?

TOTENBERG: She's 51. She's been a judge since 2013. She sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where she most recently was part of a unanimous panel that upheld a congressional subpoena for White House records related to the January 6 riots. And when former President Trump appealed to the Supreme Court, the justices left the appeals court ruling intact. Before President Biden elevated her to the appeals court, Jackson served for eight years as a federal trial court judge here in Washington, so she's got experience on two different kinds of courts.

MARTIN: In terms of her legal career, what was she doing before she was a judge?

TOTENBERG: The thing that you're going to hear a great deal about, for good or ill, and one of the reasons she was picked, I think, is that while four members of the current court were at one time prosecutors, Jackson, if confirmed, would be the first Supreme Court justice since Thurgood Marshall to have represented indigent criminal defendants. She's practiced at law firms large and small in addition and served as vice chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission at a time when it sought to reduce the draconian penalties for crack cocaine, penalties that at the time were 100 times more severe than for powder cocaine. At the sentencing commission, she earned a reputation for building consensus, and most of the panel's decisions were unanimous. And, you know, Rachel, for Jackson, sentencing is not an abstract matter. One uncle is a former Miami police chief, another was a sex crimes detective, and her younger brother was a Baltimore police undercover agent. But her family also has had experience with the scourge of drugs. Her father's oldest brother was sentenced to life in prison under a federal three strikes law aimed at repeat drug offenders.

MARTIN: And she's a D.C. native, right?

TOTENBERG: Yes, she's a D.C. native. Her parents were both teachers here. Early on, the family moved to Florida, where her father went to law school and became the school board's top lawyer and her mother became the school principal. She went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School, graduating with honors and served as a law clerk for three judges, including the man she would replace, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

MARTIN: Does this change the composition of the court at all?

TOTENBERG: Not much in terms of the overall ideological balance. There will still be a 6-3 super majority for conservatives because she's replacing Justice Breyer, a fellow liberal who's retiring.

MARTIN: What kind of confirmation hearing is she likely to get? I mean, Democrats don't need Republicans in this moment, right?

TOTENBERG: Well, if they stick together, they don't. We got some clues to what they'll be like when President Biden nominated her to the D.C. Circuit. The hearing went relatively smoothly, but she got quite a grilling from some conservative senators on the Judiciary Committee who repeatedly asked her whether she believed in systemic racism, whether that exists, and questioned her about a brief that she filed on behalf - in one of the Guantanamo cases on behalf of a group of judges who wanted to make the point that evidence obtained through torture should not be admitted at trial.

MARTIN: All right. We'll follow it closely. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, thank you so much.

TOTENBERG: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.