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Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as Supreme Court justice, becoming first Black woman on high court

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Washington — Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn as an associate justice of the Supreme Court on Thursday, officially taking her place in history as the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

"We're here today to administer the oaths of office to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States," Chief Justice John Roberts said at the start of the ceremony, acknowledging the oaths will allow Jackson to begin her work "without any further delay."

In a brief ceremony at the Supreme Court that was broadcast live, Jackson first took the constitutional oath, administered by Roberts, followed by the judicial oath, administered by now-retired Justice Stephen Breyer. Breyer's retirement from the high court was made official at noon on Thursday, paving the way for Jackson, his former clerk, to fill his seat.

"On behalf of all of the members of the court, I am pleased to welcome Justice Jackson to the court and to our common calling," Roberts said, as applause broke out. Jackson took the oaths with her hand on two Bibles held by her husband, Patrick: a family Bible, and the "Harlan" Bible, which Justice John Marshall Harlan donated to the court in 1906.

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court on Thursday, June 30, 2022. Supreme Court

In attendance for the swearing in were most of Jackson's new colleagues: Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, as well as former Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In a statement distributed by the court, Jackson, 51, thanked Roberts and Breyer, calling him a "personal friend and mentor" for 20 years. She said she is "well-positioned to serve the American people."

"With a full heart, I accept the solemn responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and administering justice without fear or favor, so help me God," she said. "I am truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great nation. I extend my sincerest thanks to all of my new colleagues for their warm and gracious welcome."

Breyer extended congratulations to the newest justice.

"I am glad today for Ketanji. Her hard work, integrity, and intelligence have earned her a place on this court. I am glad for my fellow justices. They gain a colleague who is empathetic, thoughtful, and collegial. I am glad for America," he said in a statement. "Ketanji will interpret the law wisely and fairly, helping that law to work better for the American people, whom it serves."

Breyer announced in January his plans to step down at the end of the term, giving President Biden his first opportunity to make his mark on the high court. Jackson's addition will not change the ideological makeup of the court, which is firmly controlled by the six-justice conservative majority.

"I am honored that the very first judicial nominee I selected as President – the brilliant lawyer who became 'Judge Jackson' – has now become 'Justice Jackson,'" Mr. Biden said in a statement Thursday. "Her historic swearing in today represents a profound step forward for our nation, for all the young, Black girls who now see themselves reflected on our highest court, and for all of us as Americans. The Supreme Court just gained a colleague with a world-class intellect, the dignified temperament the American people expect of a justice, and the strongest credentials imaginable."

Mr. Biden also thanked Breyer for his "many years of exemplary service."

Jackson, who served on the federal appeals court in Washington, was confirmed by the Senate in a bipartisan vote in April.  

Although three Republican senators eventually joined all 50 Democrats in voting to approve Jackson's nomination, her confirmation hearings were not without controversy, as some GOP senators tried to paint her as a soft-on-crime activist judge who would legislate from the bench.

Their criticisms, which took aim at Jackson's sentencing record in child pornography cases as a federal trial court judge, failed to derail efforts from the White House and Democratic Senate leaders to drum up bipartisan support for Jackson's nomination, piercing the partisan polarization of recent Supreme Court confirmation fights.

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