After a tumultuous term, the Supreme Court welcomed a new member less than two hours later. A new justice was sworn in on Monday, joining a court in disarray after the Senate approved Ketanji Brown Jackson in April.
According to legal commentator David Lat, “she is entering the court at just crazy polarisation after a very momentous term and after this huge leak from the spring.” He was referring to the disclosure in May of an opinion draught overturning Roe V. Wade, which closely resembled the decision made last month that eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion.
According to Mr. Lat, the author of the newsletter Original Jurisdiction, “I’m sure her coworkers will be extremely friendly to her, but there may simply be a lot more caution surrounding the place,” he added. “It could be a bit strange.”
As a new justice, Justice Jackson returned to a familiar environment. During Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s tenure, which ended in 2000, she worked as his legal clerk. As a result, the institution has undergone a remarkable transition and its newest member faces a number of unique problems.
Linda Greenhouse, a Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, spoke with John G. Roberts Jr., a well-known attorney at the time, about the court’s significant judgments near the close of its term in July of 1992.
Mr. Roberts, who would become chief justice five years later, said, “Which cases were most noticeable to the public this year?” It’s possible that the conservatives lost all three of these battles: “Probably school prayer, abortion, and Miranda.”
Cases on school religion, abortion, and Miranda were all brought to a close last month. Conservatives won all three races this time around.
After an 11-year period without any staff changes, the court in 2000 was almost halfway through that era, which was the second-longest in its history.
Most people who visited said it was a pleasant experience. That, too, has undergone a transformation.
During a conference in Dallas two weeks after the leak, Justice Clarence Thomas observed, “This is not the court of that age. We truly trusted one other. Despite the fact that our household was far from perfect, we were nonetheless a family.
Seven new justices have been sworn in since Chief Justice Roberts took office in 2005. Justice Thomas is the only current member of the court who served as a clerk to Justice Jackson in 2000.
During her swearing-in ceremony last month, Justice Jackson made reference to the fact that she had become the first African-American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. It is an honour to be a part of “the potential of our wonderful country,” she said in a statement. “I am really thankful.”
These characteristics, together with her knowledge of the court’s procedures, bode well for Justice Jackson. Conservative majority of six justices primed to push legislation to the right seems ready to impose itself, and its most junior member will have little capacity to halt, much less stop, its ambition. This will be a difficult task.
As a result, it may take Justice Jackson some time to become used to the court’s work, as she has spent much of her career as a trial judge.
Justice Thomas, who joined the Supreme Court in 1991, said he had inquired about how long it would take for him to feel at ease. In 1996, Justice Thomas said, “They told it takes three to five years under normal conditions” for people to become used to the judicial system.
That’s what most people think. Justice Felix Frankfurter stated of Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who served on the Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939, “such exceptional an intellect as Brandeis admitted it took him four or five years to feel that he comprehended the jurisprudential difficulties of the court.”
She may be able to adapt more quickly because of her previous legal clerk experience. Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Jackson, Kagan, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, and Justice Kagan are all former clerks of the Supreme Court.
Even though Republican appointees controlled the court in 2000, Justice Jackson recognised that it was a different place. With seven judges selected by Republicans instead of the present six, it was even more lopsided.
However, the partisanship of the justices at the time was not a good indicator of how they would vote.
John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter, two of the Supreme Court justices selected by Republicans, were liberals. There were also two moderate conservatives, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy. In contrast, the three surviving justices—Rehnquist, Thomas, and Scalia—were all ardent conservatives.
Both Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, both of whom were appointed by President Obama, were on the verge of joining a court that was already known for its unpredictability. The liberal wing of the Supreme Court, which Justice Jackson will be a part of, will have less wiggle space for her.