WASHINGTON (AP) — Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, served as a judge on the Federal Trial Court in Washington, DC for seven years before Biden appointed her to the Court of Appeals, which sits in the same courthouse. Senate hearings on her nomination begin Monday.
Excerpts from some of Jackson’s notable opinions:
POWER OF THE PRESIDENT
In 2019, Jackson ruled a dispute between Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, and the Trump administration over lawmakers’ efforts to subpoena former White House attorney Don McGahn to testify before Congress. Democrats wanted to question McGahn about former President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to obstruct Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump claimed that his close advisers, including McGahn, are fully shielded from having to appear before Congress. The argument was based on the controversial notion that a president must be able to seek candid advice from trusted advisors without fear that what is said will become public.
Jackson dismissed the argument in a 120-page op-ed in November 2019, in which she stated that “presidents are not kings” and that for a president’s top aides “there simply isn’t absolute immunity from forced congressional proceedings.”
Siding with the House Democrats, Jackson wrote: “This means they have no subjects bound by loyalty or blood whose fate they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is undeniable that current and former White House staffers work for the people of the United States and take an oath to protect and defend the United States Constitution.”
The claim that Trump can bar his senior advisers from testifying outright “is a claim that cannot be reconciled with the core values of the Constitution, and for that reason alone it cannot be sustained.”
The government appealed, and the case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit until the end of Trump’s presidency. Since then, the House of Representatives and McGahn’s attorneys have reached an agreement under which McGahn will answer questions in a closed session.
In 2019, Jackson temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s plan to illegally expand expedited deportations of people in the country, regardless of where they were arrested. Expedited deportations have so far been largely limited to people arrested almost immediately after crossing the Mexican border.
Jackson’s ruling revolved around whether the administration was complying with the Administrative Procedures Act, a federal law designed to force the executive branch to make reasoned, well-reasoned decisions when adopting new policies.
Jackson wrote that she was concerned by the Department of Homeland Security’s apparent failure to consider how the lives of people who have lived in the United States for up to two years and their families would be affected by the expanded deportation policy.
“To this Court there is no question that a public authority cannot possibly make reasoned, non-arbitrary decision-making regarding policies that might affect real people and fails to take into account such real-life circumstances,” she wrote.
But the DC Circuit overruled Jackson, ruling that Congress gave the Secretary of Homeland Security ample discretion to expand expedited deportations without having to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act.
In a 2019 statement in a case about Trump’s extensive effort to expand the border wall with Mexico, Jackson dismissed environmental groups’ arguments that the government unreasonably ignored environmental and other laws before authorizing the construction of new barriers .
“This Court finds that Congress has spoken unequivocally about the limits of judicial review when dealing with legal claims that for non-constitutional reasons challenge the DHS Secretary’s authority to otherwise applicable statutory requirements relating to construction of border barriers,” she wrote, citing sweeping immigration reform in 1996. Jackson wrote that she also had an obligation to dismiss constitutional challenges to the waiver because of a previous district court ruling on the same provision of the immigration statute.
In her first appeals court testimony, Jackson sided with public sector unions challenging a Trump-era rule that made it easier for government agencies to enforce changes in the workplace.
In 2020, the Federal Labor Office changed a rule that had been in place since the 1980s, requiring changes in working conditions that have more than a minor impact on workers to be negotiated collectively. The FLRA voted to require negotiations with unions only for changes with a “significant impact”.
Jackson sided with the unions and wrote for a unanimous panel of three judges. “The superficial statement of policy that FLRA has issued to justify its decision to abandon 35 years of precedent to promote and apply the de minimis standard and adopt the previously rejected significant impact test is arbitrary and capricious,” she wrote at the end of an 18-page statement.
The appeals court, which Jackson joined last year, often deals with lawsuits like the one brought by the union in this case.
In a 2018 case involving unions representing government employees, Jackson ruled against executive orders issued by Trump that the defendant unions would weaken their bargaining power in violation of federal law.
Jackson wrote that “It is undisputed that no such injunctions can serve to undermine the right to collective bargaining as provided for in the federal Labor Code.
“Taken together,” she wrote, “the contested executive orders reflect a decidedly different policy choice; namely, the President’s stated view that the right of federal employees to collectively bargain over their terms of employment makes government less efficient and ‘should be subordinated to the interest of the authorities in developing efficient, effective and cost-cutting collective bargaining agreements.'”
The DC Circuit overruled Jackson, writing that she had no jurisdiction over the unions’ claims. The Court of Appeals ruled that the unions should have pursued their claims in an administrative rather than a federal proceeding.