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Supreme Court pick Ketanji Brown Jackson's rulings in key business cases

·Reporter
·6 min read

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson faces a potentially razor-thin vote in the Senate where she’ll soon be grilled by Republicans who hold a nearly equal balance of power.

Jackson, 51, needs the yes votes of a simple majority to be confirmed in the chamber, now split 50-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.

While she’s expected to receive the votes needed to be confirmed for the high court, Republican senators are certain to zero in on Jackson’s past decisions that impact corporate interests.

In two cases involving labor unions Jackson's rulings protected their latitude to engage in collective bargaining, though one of the decisions was overruled. In several cases addressing employment discrimination, the judge invalidated workers' claims that their employers fired them due to disabilities. In a ruling that temporarily stopped the fast-track deportation of certain undocumented immigrants, Jackson was also overruled.

Here’s how Jackson ruled in prominent business cases.

Labor & Employment

In her very first written opinion for the District of Columbia’s federal court of appeals, where Jackson has served as a judge since June 2021, she ruled in favor of a group of public sector union workers. The workers challenged a Trump-era rule change that gave more latitude to federal agencies to alter working conditions absent collective bargaining. In her opinion, Jackson prohibited the Federal Labor Relations Authority from “arbitrarily” abandoning the 35 years of precedent backing up that even purportedly insignificant changes are subject to union negotiations. Fed'n of Labor & Cong. of Indus. Organizations v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Joe Biden announced Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris listens at right. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Joe Biden announced Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris listens at right. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In a similar case during Jackson’s tenure as a D.C. district court judge, she ruled against three Trump executive orders and in favor of public sector unions in a case where unions argued that the president’s executive orders unlawfully weakened their right to negotiate. The D.C. Circuit Court later reversed Jackson, saying the court had no jurisdiction to decide the dispute.

As a district court judge, Jackson sided against certain plaintiffs who alleged employment discrimination. In one case, Jackson held that discriminatory comments made by a supervisor towards a 56-year-old worker — saying he was getting older and that he should take earned sick days in lieu of bringing a cane to work — did not mean that a three-member panel decision to decline his promotion to a higher-grade position was also discriminatory. Though the supervisor served on the deciding panel, Jackson said the worker presented no evidence that the supervisor's comments influenced the other two panel members.

Jackson ruled against a chemist for the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a 2015 case before the D.C. district court, granting the FDA’s motion to dismiss her complaint alleging the agency failed to accommodate her diagnosed bipolar disorder and wrongfully terminated her because of her condition. In granting the motion, Jackson wrote that the chemist failed to disclose her diagnosis to the FDA in a timely way and that questions remained about whether she could have performed the essential functions of her job if reassigned as requested.

In a 2019 case brought by a female special agent candidate for the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Jackson denied both the plaintiff’s and the State Department’s motions asking for a ruling in their favor without a trial on the issue.

The plaintiff alleged the agency discriminated against her when it terminated her for failing a requirement to run a 1.5-mile training run. The plaintiff, who suffered from asthma, said the agency’s failure to accommodate her disability violated federal anti-discrimination laws. Jackson ruled that although the plaintiff offered no evidence to show she could have performed the essential functions of her position with accommodation, the lower court had not addressed whether an alternative role existed within the State Department that she could have performed.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Ketanji Brown Jackson, circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, makes brief remarks after U.S. President Joe Biden introduced her as his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court during an event in the Cross Hall of the White House February 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. Pending confirmation, Judge Brown Jackson would succeed retiring Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and become the first-ever Black woman to serve on the high court. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Ketanji Brown Jackson, circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, makes brief remarks after U.S. President Joe Biden introduced her (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Jackson denied a settlement tied to a proposed class certification for 5,000 Black Lockheed Martin workers alleging that the company conducted discriminatory employment reviews. In a 2016 opinion, Jackson explained that it was “entirely implausible" to infer that the plaintiff group suffered a common injury from Lockheed Martin’s practice and therefore should not be subjected to have their injuries redressed through a single remedy.

Professional fees

In a case involving attorney fees, Jackson decided against a plaintiff who argued that $218,033 in fees were justified. The plaintiff lost a jury trial in the case alleging sex discrimination and retaliation against the United States Capitol Police. Although the jury found that sex was a motivating factor in the government’s decision to fire her, Jackson ruled the fees were unjustified.

Immigration

In a 2019 case, the D.C. Circuit overruled Jackson after temporarily blocking then-President Donald Trump from carrying out a policy to more quickly deport people illegally within the U.S. The immigrant plaintiffs argued that a DHS change to designate undocumented non-citizens who had been in the country up to two years as eligible for "expedited removal” violated the Administrative Procedure Act. That law requires changes to federal policy to be made “reasonably.”

Some Republican senators have publicly criticized Biden's nomination of Jackson, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who was one of three Republican lawmakers to confirm her to the D.C. Court of Appeals, along with Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Graham wrote in a tweet after news reports suggesting Jackson's likely nomination that the choice means “the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again.” He added: “The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated."

Tweet from Sen. Lindsey Graham Feb. 25, 2022
Tweet from Sen. Lindsey Graham Feb. 25, 2022

Jackson follows an established line of nominees and justices who graduated from Harvard Law School, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, who Jackson will replace if she's confirmed, Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and retired Justices David Souter and Anthony Kennedy. Former Supreme Court nominee and now U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland also graduated from Harvard Law School.

Murkowski left room to reverse her prior confirmation of Jackson saying, "previously voting to confirm an individual to a lower court does not signal how I will vote for a Supreme Court justice."

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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