Paul Mirengoff shares insider gossip at his new Substack, Ringside at the Reckoning.
Ketanji Brown Jackson presents an unusual career trajectory for a Supreme Court Justice or, indeed, for a lawyer. After clerking on the Supreme Court for Justice Breyer, she became an associate at a prestigious law firm. There’s nothing unusual about that.
However, after only a year-and-a-half, she left that firm to join a small practice that specialized in negotiating resolution of disputes. A year-and-a-half later she moved on to a position as a staff lawyer on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
This downward trajectory would normally raise yellow flags. However, as Ed Whelan documents, Jackson explains it as a way of doing “the ‘working mother’ thing.” Taking less demanding jobs enabled her “to spend some time with my wonderful husband and girls.”
It’s a plausible explanation. If accurate, it’s commendable.
However, there is reason to believe that Jackson wasn’t cutting it at her law firm. A former partner at the firm tells me she was a poor associate – “intellectually lazy” and “not very bright.”
He adds that partners were relieved when she left the firm. It saved them from having to make a difficult decision about whether to terminate her employment. Even 20 years ago, no law firm relished firing a black attorney, much less one who had clerked on the Supreme Court.
Some of Jackson’s former law firm colleagues, and not just conservatives, were “horrified” when she became a federal judge. Yet, now she will serve on the Supreme Court.
Given what my source, whom I trust, reports, “couldn’t cut it” seems like a more plausible explanation for Jackson’s strange career trajectory than “spend more time with the family.”
Jackson isn’t the same person she was 20 years ago. Almost certainly, she has advanced intellectually. However, it’s hard to imagine that she could advance from a mediocre law firm associate — and my source says she was worse than mediocre — to a Supreme Court-caliber legal mind.
Do Jackson’s writings as judge suggest that she has? Seemingly not. A legal writing guru, putting things as politely as he could, said that some might find her work “plodding, perhaps even painful.” In Ed Whelan’s estimation, “if someone applying for a clerkship submitted a writing sample of [the quality of this Jackson opinion], the applicant’s prospects would be damaged.”