Biden picks Ketanji Brown Jackson for Supreme Court
President Joe Biden has made his Supreme Court pick – U.S. Appeals Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
While Jackson’s appointment, if successful, will not change the court’s ideological balance, and conservative justices will retain a 6-3 majority, she will bring a perspective that’s largely absent on the federal bench: her work as a public defender.
Why does this make a different? Because in a judicial system stacked in favor of locking people up – and rounding-off the corners of individual constitutional rights – someone with Brown Jackson’s experience on the accused’s side of things will be a refreshing counterweight:
Take Patterson v. United States (2013), which centered on the arrest of an Occupy D.C. protester named Anthony Michael Patterson for using profanity in a public park. Officers told Paterson to stop cursing at Tea Party activists. When Patterson refused, he was arrested for disorderly conduct. The charges against him were later dropped.
Patterson sued the officers over his bogus arrest, which was triggered by nothing more than the lawful exercise of his First Amendment rights in a public place. The officers responded by seeking to have the suit thrown out. They invoked the controversial doctrine of qualified immunity, which often shields state officials from being sued over alleged constitutional rights violations. According to the Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, state actors are entitled to immunity from civil suits arising from their official conduct so long as the conduct that they’re being sued over “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.” In this case, the officers essentially claimed that it was not “clearly established” that the First Amendment protected somebody like Patterson from being arrested for using a four-letter word in public.
In her decision, Jackson practically scoffed at the officers’ position and denied them qualified immunity. “The right to be free from a retaliatory arrest in the absence of probable cause is clearly established in this jurisdiction,” she wrote. In fact, “a police officer is unquestionably on notice that arresting a speaker solely based on the content of his speech and without probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime is a violation of the First Amendment.”
Brown Jackson is very likely to pass through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her chances in the full Senate? We shall see.