Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to Address BU School of Law Convocation in May

Press Release

The newest justice on the Supreme Court of the United States is coming to Boston University. Ketanji Brown Jackson will give the School of Law’s convocation address for the 2023 Commencement on Sunday, May 21.

Jackson is the High Court’s first Black woman and first former public defender. “You want your students exposed to people who not only do well career-wise, but also do good in their lives,” says Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean of LAW and Ryan Roth Gallo & Ernest J. Gallo Professor of Law. “Justice Jackson is a great role model for our students—a truly excellent example to learn from and aspire to be more like.”

In addition to having clerked for the Supreme Court justice she replaced, Stephen Breyer (Hon.’95), Jackson’s career has included private practice, eight years as a federal judge, and two-plus years as an assistant federal public defender in Washington, D.C. In that last job, the Washington Post notes that “where she was assigned primarily to work on appealing convictions…she won uncommon victories against the government that shortened or erased lengthy prison terms.”

Jackson is the first high court justice since the late Thurgood Marshall to have represented criminal defendants in court.

An alumna of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, she was supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review before earning her JD in 1996. She clerked for judges of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts and the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit prior to working for Breyer during the Supreme Court’s 1999 term.

Jackson worked as an attorney for the US Sentencing Commission and was nominated in 2010 by President Obama, and confirmed by the Senate, to serve as vice chair and commissioner, a position that she held for four years. She earned a reputation as a consensus-builder and helped produce mostly unanimous decisions by the Commission.

In April 2021, President Biden nominated her to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; she was confirmed in June 2021. In February of the following year, the president nominated her to serve on the Supreme Court, and the Senate confirmed her in April 2022.

Justice Brown Jackson is a great role model for our students—a truly excellent example to learn from and aspire to be more like.
Angela Onwuachi-Willig

Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., with the African name Ketanji Onyika (Lovely One) to two public school teachers who themselves had attended segregated primary schools. When she was four, the family moved to Miami, where her father attended law school and became chief attorney for the Miami-Dade County School Board.

In 2017, Jackson described her father’s inspiration to her: “When people ask why I decided to go into the legal profession, I often tell the story of how, when I was in preschool, I would sit at the dining room table doing my ‘homework’ with my father—he had all of his law books stacked up, and I had all of my coloring books stacked up—and when I think back to those times, there really is no question that my interest in the law began that early on.”

Jackson was a national oratory champion in high school, then attended Harvard, where she majored in government, graduating in 1992. She worked for a year as a journalist and researcher at Time magazine before attending Harvard Law.

She and her husband have two daughters.

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States,” Jackson said in remarks at the White House the day after her confirmation, “but we’ve made it! We’ve made it—all of us.”

BU makes a fitting locale for Jackson’s address, Onwuachi-Willig says: “We have our own amazing history of multiple, significant firsts among lawyers due to our founders’ forward-thinking decision to admit students without regard to race, gender, and religion when [the School of Law] opened in 1872.”

LAW’s convocation ceremony will be held at 9 am on Sunday, May 21, at the Track & Tennis Center.