Updated June 30, 2022 at 1:24 p.m.
Ketanji Brown Jackson officially became the 116th justice of the Supreme Court and the first Black woman ever to sit on the country’s highest court at a ceremony this afternoon.
Jackson, who was confirmed by the Senate after contentious hearings in April, was sworn at 12:05 p.m., just minutes after the court issued the final rulings of the current term and Justice Stephen R. Breyer’s retirement became official. In attendance were her husband, Patrick, and daughters Talia and Leila.
Chief Justice John Roberts explained that joining the Court required oaths dictated by the Constitution as well as a separate one required by the Judiciary Act of 1789. Roberts administered the former and Breyer performed the latter. Another ceremony, called the “investiture” will be held privately among the nine justices later this year.
Breyer, whose seat Jackson was confirmed to fill in a historic vote on April 7, notified the White House on Tuesday that his retirement would take effect today at noon.
The move wasn’t unexpected, as it was Breyer’s planned retirement that paved the way for President Joe Biden to nominate Jackson to the Court early this year. She’ll take her seat on a Court dominated by a supermajority of young, conservative justices which in the course of its most recent term delivered majority opinions that could shape American society for decades.
The Court’s recent rulings that rescinded a national right of women to have an abortion, stripped accountability from police officers who fail to inform arrestees of their legal rights and sided with a high school football coach who conducted prayers on a public school field and gutted gun control efforts in New York State and elsewhere, are a lurch to the far right for the country and are likely to have a disproportionate impact on women and Black Americans.
Likewise, as the court’s first Black woman, Jackson’s voice on the bench during oral arguments and behind-the-scenes deliberations promises to have an impact on debates among the nine most important judges in the country. Court watchers, especially those with a keen interest in civil and women’s rights, will pay close attention when her first written opinions—whether on behalf of the dissenters, a concurrence with a majority or writing the lead opinion for the court’s majority.
But it could be some time before that last possibility becomes reality. Jackson’s replacement of Breyer won’t shift the Court’s 6-3 conservative majority—even accounting for Chief Justice John Roberts’ more moderate than expected opinions.