Supreme Court appointments
A would-be SCOTUS candidate saw the impact of the criminal justice system in his uncle’s case
U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. US District Court for the District of Columbia file photo.
U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often mentioned as a possible candidate for the United States Supreme Court, has seen the impact of the defense system criminal in part through the case of an uncle.
The uncle, Thomas Brown Jr., had been sentenced to life in 1989 for a nonviolent drug-related crime under a three-strikes law, the Washington Post and New York Times report.
Brown had asked Jackson for help in 2005 when she was a federal public defender. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr represented Brown pro bono after a recommendation from Jackson; he later received a commutation from then-President Barack Obama, who commuted over 1,700 sentences in total.
Brown was 78 when he was released. He died less than a year later.
“Jackson’s contact with her uncle and her prison sentence, which stemmed from the national war on drugs, add to a set of life experiences that would set her apart from previous justices,” reports the Washington Post.
Brown was the older brother of Jackson’s father, who was a school board attorney. According to The New York Times, other members of Jackson’s family had police backgrounds, including a younger brother who worked in undercover drug stings for the Baltimore police.
Brown had received 18 months of probation when he pleaded guilty to his first-strike felony: carrying a concealed weapon and possession of heroin, according to the Washington Post. Six years later, in 1982, Brown pleaded guilty to cannabis possession and was fined $1,500.
Then, after an arrest in 1989, Brown was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to sell and conspiracy to commit the offence. Brown received a life sentence because it was his third drug offense.
Jackson, a former clerk to Judge Stephen G. Breyer, became a federal district judge in 2013 and a federal appellate judge in 2021. Prior to that, she served as vice chair of the US Sentencing Commission when it passed guidelines reducing sentences for many federal drug offenders. .
According to The New York Times, as a judge, Jackson “is better known for being detailed and thorough, sometimes erroneously, than for his clear and succinct rulings.” In the arguments, she “tends to assert lively command” by displaying her skills as a national high school oratory champion.
According to the Washington Post, Jackson has sentenced more than 100 people to prison as a trial judge. In one case, she imposed a four-year sentence in 2017 on a man who fired a military-style rifle at a Washington pizzeria, according to The New York Times. The accused had been deceived by a false conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton operated a pedophile ring in the restaurant.