WASHINGTON – Now it's Ketanji Brown Jackson's turn to ask the questions.
After enduring an at-times bitter Senate confirmation this year, the newest associate justice of the Supreme Court took her seat behind the court's mahogany bench Friday at a formal investiture ceremony that was full of symbolism and history.
And on Monday, Jackson will take part in her first oral argument – delving into an environmental case that has vexed the court for years.
The focus on Jackson, the first African American woman to ascend to the nation's highest court, has come with a good deal of theorizing about how she might influence an institution where conservatives are firmly in control. In the politically charged cases, it's a good bet Jackson will be in dissent just like the justice she replaced, Stephen Breyer.
But that doesn't mean she won't have an impact.
"Any justice brings their own background and perspective to the court in a way that can change the chemistry – not radically, necessarily, not in a way that will change the outcome in terms of votes, but it may change some of the quality and reasoning of the decision," said Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense Fund.
As a Black woman, Nelson said, Jackson brings a set of experiences that will be unique to the court and historic. Her arrival marks the first time four women have served together as justices and the first time women and people of color outnumber white men.
"There’s no question she will be educating her colleagues in many ways," Nelson said.
Jackson became an associate justice in June after taking one oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts and another from Breyer, who retired at the end of the term.Friday's tightly choreographed investiture is ceremonial, a way for colleagues to formally welcome her. It will also underscore the historic nature of her appointment and the first time a justice nominated by a Democratic president has been seated since 2010.
President Joe Biden, who named Jackson in February, and Vice President Kamala Harris both attended the ceremony. Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed the court, presenting the commission he and Biden had signed that formally names Jackson to the life-long appointment.
A recent tradition by Supreme Court standards, Chief Justice Warren Burger arranged the first such ceremony in 1970 to welcome Associate Justice Harry Blackmun. Burger also started the tradition of having the new justice sit in a chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall in the early 19th century. Jackson sat in the chair as Scott Harris, the clerk of the Supreme Court, read the commission aloud to a packed courtroom.
After taking a ceremonial oath of office from Roberts as the other justices stood at their chairs, Jackson walked to the far right end of the bench to take her seat. Roberts wished Jackson a long and happy tenure "in our common calling" and the ceremony ended.
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No cameras were allowed in the courtroom but Jackson and Roberts walked down the front steps of the building together after the ceremony, posing for photographers.
Jackson, 52, spent a year on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Before that she served for eight years as a U.S. District judge, making her one of two justices with experience presiding over a trial court. Her years as a former federal public defender and as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission will likely give Jackson an especially strong insight into federal criminal cases, experts said.
"Being on the court is a long-term proposition," said Doug Jones, the former Alabama senator and Democrat who helped guide Jackson through her confirmation.
"She always talked about the way that Justice Breyer would try to go and talk to other justices, to get their thoughts and work through issues. Her whole history has been doing that," Jones said. "At this time in the court's history, we need someone that all the justices will respect who can do that. From the outside looking in, you don't know whether that's happening as much as it should be happening anymore. But I think she will at least give it everything she's got to do that."
Jackson has already taken part in a number of high-profile emergency cases over the summer. In July, the court declined a request from the Biden administration to be allowed to prioritize certain immigrants for deportation. Jackson sided with the court's two other liberals, dissenting from the decision to deny the Biden administration's enforcement request, and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court backed an LGBTQ student group seeking recognition at an Orthodox Jewish university in New York, temporarily requiring the school to allow the group to meet on campus while the litigation continues – though both sides agreed to delay the recognition. Jackson was in the majority in that 5-4 decision.
The Supreme Court begins a new term Monday in which the justices will tackle a number of controversial issues, including race-conscious admissions at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina, questions about the way states manage federal elections and a free speech challenge to a Colorado law that bars discrimination against LGBTQ residents.
Those cases will be argued and decided as the fallout continues from the court's decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion. Though that decision was celebrated on the right, a series of recent polls have indicated waning confidence in the high court.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Justice Jackson welcomed to Supreme Court as new term kicks off