Ketanji Brown Jackson on the Rights of Criminal Defendants and Prisoners

| Reproaction

By: Audrey Gow

President Joe Biden’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, when confirmed, will be the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice with a public defender background, bringing a necessary but often absent perspective amidst the overrepresentation of prosecutors on federal benches. [1] Her experience representing criminal defendants demonstrates her commitment to a fair judicial process that is mindful of defendants’ and incarcerated peoples’ rights.

During her time as a public defender, she helped file habeas corpus litigation for individuals detained without charges at Guantánamo Bay to determine if her clients’ imprisonments were lawful. [2] She later submitted amicus briefs on behalf of two organizations challenging George W. Bush-era detention policies that override individuals’ protected rights. She clearly prioritizes the necessity of a fair trial and individual liberty, having stated that she puts aside her personal beliefs about the clients she represents to, “investigate […] thoroughly and […] protect the rights of the accused.” [3]

Not only does Judge Jackson have a history of recognizing the humanity of defendants and incarcerated people, but she is also keenly aware of how the criminal justice system impacts communities of color. As the vice chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Judge Jackson reduced prison sentences for individuals unfairly convicted under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which was codified at the height of the racist “war on drugs.” [4] Up until the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, people were often charged with much longer sentences for possessing the same amount of crack cocaine as powder cocaine, which led to a disproportionate increase in incarceration of Black and brown individuals for drug possession as opposed to their white counterparts — injustices which have had and will continue to have reverberating effects for generations. [5]

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record of fairly reviewing the rights of those often forgotten – namely people in prison and detention facilities – is a needed addition because the U.S. Supreme Court consistently reviews federal sentencing policies, criminal defendants’ rights, and retroactive rulings. Her respect for people’s rights is reflected by the words of her former supervisor, federal public defender A.J. Kramer, who states that Judge Jackson pursued public defense to, “help people who came from very unfortunate backgrounds” and “work with human beings involved in the system.” [3] Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s centering of incarcerated people’s humanity and dedication to equitably reviewing the treatment of criminal defendants and those imprisoned will advance reproductive justice by challenging legal attempts to degrade human rights. She will be an asset to the highest court as she has been to the federal court system, restoring humanity and approaching more just outcomes for the accused.


Stay Connected

Support The Cause

donate now

Take Action

Find a campaign and take action now