Federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who’s reportedly in the running to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has a long track record on energy and conservation cases.
Jackson has been a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2013 after she was nominated by President Obama and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. In her current job, the 45-year-old African-American judge has heard a host of challenges to federal agency policies including Forest Service management plans, federal approval of oil pipeline construction and Energy Department loans to promote clean energy vehicles.
Jackson, who’s related to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) by marriage, is being vetted by the White House as a possible nominee for Scalia’s vacant seat, The National Law Journal reported last week.
Her office today declined to comment on whether she’s in the running, and the White House media office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
If Obama indeed picks Jackson as his nominee for the bench, her judicial record — including the environmental cases she’s weighed in on — will come under a microscope.
Among the environmental cases she’s handled was a decision last year in which she rejected a lawsuit by more than a dozen logging, grazing and off-highway vehicle groups that sought to overturn the Forest Service’s 2012 planning rule. She ruled that industry groups didn’t have standing to challenge the rule because they failed to prove they had been harmed by it or could be harmed in the near future — a decision that marked a major win for the Obama administration and conservation groups (E&ENews PM, April 30, 2015).
In 2014, Jackson issued an opinion in a case over the construction of an oil pipeline pitting environmentalists against the Army Corps of Engineers. She found that the Sierra Club was "wrong to insist that any federal agency had an obligation under [the National Environmental Policy Act] or any other statute to conduct an environmental review of the impact" of an entire oil pipeline before the company broke ground on the project, given that the Army Corps only had permitting authority over small segments of the private pipeline project.
A federal appeals court upheld that ruling last September (Greenwire, Sept. 29, 2015).
Jackson has many qualities that could make her an attractive candidate for the White House as it looks to overcome staunch opposition by the Republican-led Senate to advancing an Obama nominee. She has had the support of at least one prominent House Republican.
At her 2012 confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ryan — who wasn’t yet speaker — introduced Jackson and offered his support. "I am here to serve as a character witness. I know her. We are family by marriage," Ryan said. Jackson’s husband, Patrick, is the brother of William Jackson, who’s married to Ryan’s sister-in-law Dana Jackson.
"Now, our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, for her integrity, it is unequivocal. She is an amazing person, and I favorably recommend your consideration," Ryan told the senators.
Lawyer and Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein wrote recently that Jackson could represent a strong pick for the White House. "She was confirmed … without any Republican opposition in the Senate not once, but twice," Goldstein wrote on the website SCOTUSblog last month, both for her current job and for a seat on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
"She is a young — but not too young (forty-five) — black woman. Her credentials are impeccable," Goldstein added.
Jackson worked at the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP with a focus on criminal and civil appeals and was a public defender in the District of Columbia. She previously clerked for three federal judges, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. She graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, where she served as a supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Click here for the transcript of her 2012 confirmation hearing.