On April 7, 2022, the United States Senate voted to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, making her the 1st Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
Let’s take a closer look at the newest Supreme Court Justice, including her role in 1 of the most well-known personal injury cases filed in the last decade.
Early life of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Miami, Florida. Her parents were public school teachers in the Miami-Dade Public School System, but her father left the position to attend law school shortly after Ketanji was born. Some of Ketanji’s earliest memories are sitting next to her father in their small apartment while he grappled with law school assignments.
Unsurprisingly, Ketanji was a driven child. She was a speech and debate star at Palmetto Junior High, and she became student body president of Miami Palmetto Senior High School.
In 1992, Ketanji Brown Jackson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. She then attended Harvard Law School, where she graduated cum laude and served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Career as a public defender and judge
Ketanji Brown Jackson began her career as a law clerk for Justice Breyer. She then worked as a federal public defender for several years before serving as Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission (an independent agency responsible for articulating the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines).
In 2012, Ketanji became a district court judge for the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, where she authored nearly 600 opinions.
Less than a decade later, Judge Jackson was confirmed with bipartisan support to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Supreme Court nomination and confirmation
On February 25, 2022, Judge Jackson was nominated to the United States Supreme Court.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Judge Jackson said, “I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded, will inspire future generations of Americans.”
On April 7, 2022, the U.S. Senate voted 53-47 to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th justice in U.S. history. Three Republicans—Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney—joined all 50 Democrats in supporting President Joe Biden’s nominee.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the 1st Black woman and the 1st former federal public defender to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
While serving at the United States District Court of the District of Columbia, Judge Jackson presided over one of the most well-known personal injury cases in the last decade.
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying 239 people, 3 of whom were American citizens, disappeared while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia to Beijing Capital International Airport. Although several pieces of marine debris confirmed to be from the aircraft were found washed ashore in the Western Indian Ocean the following year, the plane was never located.
The victims’ families filed a number of lawsuits against Boeing (the manufacturer of the plane) for negligence, wrongful death and product liability. The lawsuits were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
On November 21, 2018, Judge Jackson dismissed all of the claims on forum non conveniens grounds.
Forum non conveniens is a fancy way of saying that another court, or forum, is much better suited to hear the case. When claims are dismissed on forum non conveniens grounds, the plaintiffs are free to file their claims again in the more appropriate court.
In a lengthy opinion, Judge Jackson stated that Malaysia had an “overwhelming interest” in the outcome of the case and was much better suited to hear the case.
In support of her decision, Judge Jackson explained that while Boeing is an American company, “the key question as far as the forum non conveniens balancing is concerned is whether the significant public interest of the country that manufactured the aircraft outweighs the public interest of the country that maintained and operated the ill-fated plane.”
Judge Jackson further reasoned that:
- The operator of the flight was Malaysia’s national air carrier,
- The flight departed from Malaysia,
- Malaysian air traffic controllers were the last people to have direct contact with the Malaysian pilot and crew, and
- Malaysian officials were responsible for leading the civil safety investigation.
Further, most of the liability-related evidence and damages-related evidence were located in Malaysia.
Judge Jackson’s decision provides a useful analysis for future claims arising out of non-U.S. accidents that involve both U.S. and non-U.S. plaintiffs.