And a Public Defender for All


Sara Mayeux

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equal justice, diversity, public defender, Fourteenth Amendment


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Fourteenth Amendment | Law | Law and Society


The Senate confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court last week means that she is soon to be the first Supreme Court justice with prior experience as a federal public defender. This is historic in its own right, though it is not quite as surprising on closer inspection, since the institution of the federal public defender — in its currently prevailing organizational particulars, anyway — dates back only to the 1970s. Still, given that several of the justices previously worked as federal prosecutors, Jackson’s confirmation injects a welcome measure of professional balance to the lineup. Moreover, Jackson can rightfully claim the mantle of being the first justice since Thurgood Marshall with meaningful criminal defense experience.

For all of these reasons and many more, Jackson’s ascension is worth celebrating and comports well with the Biden administration’s broader campaign to promote “professional diversity” in the federal judiciary. As she noted during her Senate hearings, this diversity matters to the Supreme Court because “it lends and bolsters public confidence in our system.”

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