Ketanji Brown Jackson, then a Washington, D.C., public defender, received a plea from an uncle, Thomas Brown, Jr., who was serving a life sentence in Florida for a nonviolent drug crime. He hoped Jackson could help him get out of prison. Jackson, now a federal appeals court judge in the capital, is a potential Supreme Court nominee by President Biden. He experience with her uncle adds to a set of experiences that would distinguish her from previous justices, the Washington Post reports. Brown was sentenced under a “three strikes” law. On a referral from Jackson, a major law firm took his case pro bono, and President Obama later commuted his sentence.
Liberal advocacy organizations have promoted Jackson to Biden not only because of her gender and race — Biden but because of her varied personal and professional experience, particularly as a federal public defender. Nominees to the federal bench more often have worked as prosecutors and corporate lawyers. Jackson represented people accused of an array of crimes who could not afford an attorney. Later, as an Obama appointee on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, she helped rewrite guidelines to reduce recommended penalties for drug-related offenses. As a trial judge for eight years, she sentenced more than 100 people to prison. “For Ketanji, the law isn’t just an abstract set of concepts. Her family’s experience does inform her awareness of the real impact the law has on people’s lives,” said a friend and former colleague from the federal defender’s office. In 1976, when Jackson was five, her uncle’s troubles began to surface. Brown, then 37, was charged with carrying a concealed firearm as well as possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia.