Ketanji Brown Jackson is the first Black woman confirmed to the Supreme Court. She is the third Black Supreme Court justice after Thurgood Marshall in 1967 and her Supreme Court colleague Clarence Thomas in 1991. She is now the sixth woman ever to be on the nation’s highest court.
Jackson’s confirmation is the latest in a continued shift in the demographics and attributes of federal judges, including Supreme Court justices.
The courts have historically been white and male. Although the courts have slowly become more diverse, about 71% of all current federal judges are white, non-Hispanics. By comparison white, non-Hispanics are about 58% of the US population.
The first woman named to a federal judge's seat was Kathryn Sellers, appointed in 1918; the first non-white and first Black federal judge was William Hastie, appointed in 1949. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to hold a Supreme Court seat, appointed in 1981.
Women make up 35% of current active federal judges and 13% of the federal judges ever seated.
Of all federal judges appointed before 1990, 97% were men and 96% were white. For federal judges appointed from 1990 to today, 70% were male and 76% were white.
Black women are currently about 9% of all sitting federal judges. The first Black woman named to a federal judge’s seat was Constance Baker Motley, appointed in 1966. Motley served in the federal judiciary until her death on September 28, 2005. In her nomination speech, Jackson thanked Motley for paving the way for someone like Jackson to reach the Supreme Court. Jackson and Motley were born on the same day, 49 years apart.
At age 51, Jackson was confirmed at below the median age of 53 for a Supreme Court justice. Four of the current Supreme Court justices — Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Elena Kagan — were younger than the median confirmation age when they were added to the court.
A seat on the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment. The median time served on the court since 1789 is about 16 years. But for justices appointed since 1950, the median is about 18 years, even when including the current justices.
Since 1789, 60% of all Supreme Court seat openings have occurred due to a justice’s death. Jackson was nominated to fill the seat of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.
While federal judgeships are themselves nonpartisan, presidents nominate the candidates. Since the Supreme Court was established in 1789, there have been 116 successful nominations made to the court. Fifty-seven were made by Republican presidents and 41 by Democrats. The current Supreme Court has six justices nominated by Republicans and three by Democrats.
When including other federal courts — the district courts, courts of appeals, and the Court of International Trade — there are currently 1,405 sitting federal judges. About 46.1% were appointed by Democratic presidents and 54% by Republicans.
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