Ketanji Brown Jackson's U.S. Supreme Court nod follows multifaceted legal career

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WASHINGTON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Ketanji Brown Jackson, the federal appeals court judge picked by President Joe Biden to become the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, brings a diverse set of experiences to the bench, including a stint representing low-income criminal defendants.

Jackson, 51, served early in her career as a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, whose retirement announced in January created a vacancy on the nation's top judicial body. Biden last year appointed Jackson to an influential Washington-based appellate court after she served eight years as a federal district judge.

As a member of the federal judiciary, Jackson has earned respect from liberals and conservatives alike and is well-connected in Washington's legal community. Progressives favored her nomination over the other leading candidates: South Carolina-based U.S. District Court judge J. Michelle Childs and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.

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The Senate voted 53-44 last year to confirm Jackson as a member of the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she has authored two majority opinions including one favoring public sector unions that challenged a regulation issued under Republican former President Donald Trump that restricted their bargaining power.

She was part of a three-judge panel that ruled in December against Trump's bid to prevent White House records from being handed over to a congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack by a mob of his supporters. The Supreme Court subsequently declined to block that decision.

Jackson also was part of a three-judge panel that refused last August to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 pandemic-related residential eviction moratorium, a decision later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Catherine Stetson, a Washington lawyer who has appeared before Jackson in court many times, said the nominee has all the qualities of a good judge: "She is practical and intuitive and curious and courteous and always impeccably prepared."

'PRESIDENTS ARE NOT KINGS'

The Senate confirmed Jackson in 2013 after Democratic former President Barack Obama nominated her as a Washington-based federal district judge. In one of the high-profile cases she handled in that role, Jackson ruled that Trump's former chief White House lawyer, Donald McGahn, had to comply with a congressional subpoena for testimony about potential Trump obstruction of a special counsel investigation.

"The primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings," Jackson wrote.

The ruling was appealed and, after Biden took office, a settlement was reached. McGahn testified behind closed doors.

Jackson in 2019 blocked Trump's plan to expedite removal of certain immigrants and in 2018 ruled against his administration's proposal to make it easier to fire federal employees - decisions later reversed by the D.C. Circuit.

Biden pledged during the 2020 presidential campaign to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court. It has had only two Black justices, both men: Clarence Thomas, appointed in 1991 and still serving, and Thurgood Marshall, who retired in 1991 and died in 1993.

During her April 2021 confirmation hearing for her current job, Jackson said her background, both personal and professional, would "bring value" to the bench, though she rejected suggestions by Republican senators that race could affect her rulings.

"I've experienced life in perhaps a different way than some of my colleagues because of who I am," Jackson said.

Jackson would become the sixth woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court, joining current members Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the retired Sandra Day O'Connor and the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

'PROFESSIONAL VAGABOND'

Biden has sought to bring more women and minorities and a broader range of backgrounds to the federal judiciary.

Jackson was raised in Miami and attended Harvard University, where she once shared a scene in a drama class with future Hollywood star Matt Damon, before graduating from Harvard Law School in 1996.

Jackson in 2017 described herself as a "professional vagabond" earlier in her legal career, moving from job to job as she sought a work-life balance while raising a family. She and husband Patrick Jackson, a surgeon, have two daughters.

She worked from 2005 to 2007 as a court-appointed lawyer paid by the government to represent criminal defendants who could not afford counsel. Among her clients was Khi Ali Gul, an Afghan detainee at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The United States sent him back to Afghanistan in 2014 when she was no longer involved in the case.

Jackson worked from 2002 to 2004 for Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer known for overseeing compensation programs including one for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

She had two stints at the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which issues guidance to judges on criminal sentencing.

Jackson in 2020 paid tribute to Breyer during a virtual conference in which they both participated, saying he "opened doors of opportunities" not just through his judicial decisions but by hiring a diverse group of law clerks.

"As a descendant of slaves," Jackson added, "let me just say that, Justice (Breyer), your thoughtfulness in that regard has made a world of difference."

Republican former House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, whose brother-in-law is her husband's twin brother, is among Jackson's fans.

"Now our politics may differ," Ryan said at her 2013 Senate confirmation hearing, "but my praise for Ketanji's intellect, for her character, for her integrity, it is unequivocal."

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Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone

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