A reasonable and intelligent investigation requires separating fact from fiction. It’s something the police do every day. Recent Senate confirmation hearings for Judge, now Judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson highlighted what happens when facts are ignored: Ridiculous stories make people who repeat them look ridiculous.
We’ve seen this before with other recent Supreme Court appointments where the intended focus on a candidate’s case law turns into political theater. Supreme Court nominees should be selected on the basis of their education, experience and commitment to the rule of law. Everything else is static.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson comes to the Supreme Court with the educational and experiential good faith required of a United States Supreme Court Justice.
She is a graduate of Harvard University where she earned a degree in government before attending Harvard Law School. She served as a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, but prior to that held separate positions in the Federal District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals. Her father was a lawyer and she has an uncle who was the chief of police in Miami. She also has a distant uncle who served time for a drug conviction. Her life sentence for cocaine possession under Florida’s “three strikes” law was eventually commuted after she helped find a law firm to take her case on a pro bono appeal.
Throughout her career, Justice Jackson has served as Deputy Special Counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Deputy Federal Public Defender, and attorney in private practice at prestigious law firms. She spent more than nine years as a federal district court judge in Washington DC before being elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on June 17, 2021.
When she takes the bench to hear her first case as a new judge, she will have more court experience than other junior judges. Neither Justices Gorsuch nor Kavanaugh, who each served 12 years on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, had any prior experience as a trial judge. She has presided over numerous trials, civil and criminal, and sentenced numerous defendants to federal prison terms. It is a background, along with his work with the US Sentencing Commission, and no doubt his experience with his uncle’s case, that will inform his jurisprudence on sentencing issues that come before the Supreme Court.
Judge Brown’s short tenure on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals provides few examples from which to glean a sense of judicial interpretation at the appellate level. However, she issued numerous district court notices and orders during her tenure as a district court judge. These writings provide an example of Justice Jackson’s jurisprudential work on law enforcement issues.
In the case of Smith v. United States, 121 F.3d 112 (DDC, 2015), plaintiff sued based on his arrest and prosecution for charges stemming from using a motor vehicle to aggressively exit an encounter with a policeman. The case was dismissed and Judge Jackson wrote, “The court need not accept as true findings unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint or legal findings presented as factual allegations..”
This was a case in which police officers had probable cause to arrest the applicant for a life-threatening assault on them. Jackson further wrote, “The recorded events clearly establish that the arresting officers had more than sufficient information to form a reasonable belief that Smith committed the crimes of assaulting a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon.”
Likewise, in Page vs. Mancuso, 999 F. Supp. 2d 269 (DDC, 2013), Judge Jackson dismissed a case in which a police officer was charged with false arrest and an additional complaint was filed against the municipality for a strip search and alleged “overdetention” of the plaintiff. In that case, she wrote, “Based on the facts alleged in the complaint and included in the materials Page attached to his objection, a reasonable officer could have found probable cause to arrest Page for destruction of property..Citing well-known language from precedent, she also wrote: “Always remember that probable cause is assessed from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 view of hindsight. .”
In James v. United States, 48 F. Supp. 3d 58 (DDC, 2013), she dismissed a lawsuit of police misconduct and defamation against a DC police officer and several federal agents arising from the plaintiff’s detention on suspicion of assault. The defamation claim related to him being handcuffed by the police officer, and then to a later defamation allegation associated with several federal agents making fun of him about an incident that occurred when he went to file his civil complaint in court.
In Kyle vs Bedlion, 177 F. Supp. 3d 380 (DDC, 2016), she held that a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity for excessive use of force and unlawful arrest, because at the time of the alleged conduct it was not a a clearly established violation of the law. Conversely, in Patterson v. United States, 999 F. Sup. 2d 300 (DDC, 2013), she denied the government’s motion to dismiss a First Amendment and Fourth Amendment violation claim against US Park Police officers. The plaintiff, a protester, was arrested for disorderly conduct after using profanity in a public park. The protester reportedly rolled his eyes and swore as he stood in a nearly empty park. Judge Jackson wrote that the right not to be arrested in retaliation absent probable cause was a clearly established right requiring the denial of the government’s motion to dismiss.
Fourth and Fifth Amendments
In two cases, United States vs. Leake, 2020 US Dist. LEXIS 112934 (SDC, 2020) and United States vs. Miller, 2016 US Dist. LEXIS 156639 (DDC, 2016), Judge Jackson denied the removal of narcotics and a firearm, respectively. In Leak she confirmed the police arrest of an individual in the laundry room of her building and in Millera case involving conflicting versions between the suspect and the police, she upheld an undercover arrest of the suspect by the DC Police Firearms Recovery Unit.
In the case of United States vs. Campos, 2018 US Dist. LEXIS 207456 (DDC, 2018), a Mexican drug trafficker sought to have the DEA’s electronic interception of telephone calls removed. Judge Jackson denied the motion and found that “the government’s surveillance requests were specific enough to meet the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”
The affair of United States vs. Richardson, 36 F. Supp. 3d 120 (DDC, 2014) concerned a defendant charged with one count of possession of a firearm and her motion to suppress statements made to the police during the execution of a warrant at her home. Judge Jackson wrote: “This Court agrees that Richardson was in custody in the circumstances presented here, but also finds that Richardson voluntarily declared – and reaffirmed – that the weapon was his, without any compulsion.” She then engaged in a detailed analysis of the underlying facts and case law to support her denial of the Respondent’s motion to suppress the statements.
Detention and sentencing
A review of the cases concerning the issues of detention, conviction and charge reveals the following: in United States vs. Terry a request for bail reduction was denied; Defendant’s motion to dismiss child pornography charges in USA vs. Hillie was refused; and in United States vs. Weekes a request to modify bail was denied. A defendant’s request for a new trial was also denied in United States vs. Johnsona prisoner’s habeas petition was denied in Evans v. United States and in United States vs. Searesa detainee’s request for humanitarian release was denied.
While detainees’ emergency requests for provisional release due to COVID-19-related prison conditions have been denied in United States vs. Wiggins and United States vs. Leecompassionate release was granted in United States vs. Dunlap and provisional release was granted in United States vs. Dabney. In the Wiggins and Lee cases, Judge Jackson found that COVID-19 conditions in prisons did not meet legal considerations for release.
The opinions cited above reflect a small number of the body of cases presided over by Judge Jackson while he was a district court judge. A review of the opinions she has written reveals a legal professional who follows the precepts of case law and statutory law. Time will tell what her term on the Supreme Court will look like, but like any appointee to our nation’s highest court, she will be joined by eight other colleagues in determining the significant legal issues facing our country.
NEXT: SCOTUS Year in Review: Rulings on Qualified Immunity and Fourth Amendment Seizures