U.S. Supreme Court contender Jackson backs unions in first ruling

Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 28, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Pool/File Photo

Feb 1 (Reuters) - A judge seen as a leading contender to be nominated by President Joe Biden to the U.S. Supreme Court penned her first ruling as an appeals court judge on Tuesday, striking down a policy begun under former President Donald Trump that had restricted the bargaining power of federal-sector labor unions.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote that a federal labor board failed to explain its abrupt departure in 2020 from decades of precedent when it limited government agencies' obligations to bargain with unions over workplace changes.

The ruling represented an important win for unions that collectively represent more than a million government employees and could help burnish Jackson's reputation with organized labor and Democrats as Biden considers appointing her to the Supreme Court. Labor unions are an important constituency for Democrats.

Biden has said he will nominate a Black woman to replace Breyer, a member of the court's liberal wing, and Jackson is believed to be among the handful under close consideration.

Jackson, 51, spent eight years as a federal judge in Washington before joining the D.C. Circuit last June, and prior to Tuesday had not authored any opinions for the court. As a district court judge she ruled against the Trump administration in a series of high-profile cases, but was often reversed by the D.C. Circuit.

Breyer, who is 83 and joined the Supreme Court in 1994, said he will step down at the end of the court's current term in June. His retirement gives Biden a first chance to shape the court, whose 6-3 conservative majority has shown an increasing assertiveness on issues including abortion and gun rights.

A Biden appointee to replace Breyer would not change the court's ideological balance, but would enable him to refresh its liberal wing with a much younger jurist who could serve for decades in the lifetime post.

Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in New York; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.