The Hand of Oppression: Plea Bargaining Processes and the Coercion of Criminal Defendants

That’s the title of a thesis written by Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson when she was an undergraduate.

A Washington Post profile, How Ketanji Brown Jackson Found a Path Between Confrontation And Compromise, said she was “a ‘child of the ’70s’ who overcame obstacles by finding middle ground.  … [She spent] her first year after college in New York as a reporter at Time magazine, then sitting in on meetings and interviewing 25 judges and lawyers as she interned at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.”

“’She was always the person trying to find the middle ground,’ [a college roommate] said.  As other Black students at Harvard took to the streets to confront college officials about issues of race and equality, Jackson counseled moderation. ‘They’re not going to listen to us if we’re screaming at them,’ she’d say,” Simmons recalled. “She was always asking, “What are the facts we can use to persuade?’””

Like former President Barack Obama, she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review and, though she worked for corporate clients for a while, she obviously wanted to do more than make a lot of money.

According to a NYT profile, when she was a lawyer for the United States Sentencing Commission, she realized that she “lacked a practical understanding of the actual workings of the federal criminal justice system, and [she] decided that serving ‘in the trenches,’ so to speak, would be helpful.”  She thought the public defender’s office would provide that knowledge while also being “an opportunity to help people in need, and to promote core constitutional values.”

A colleague said, “She clearly wanted to see how the system worked in actuality, and was more interested in the defense side of trying to help people who came from very unfortunate backgrounds. … And it also gave her a chance, I think, to work with human beings involved in the system.”

According to a New York Magazine profile, in college, when she wasn’t writing about coercion in plea bargaining, she “performed improv comedy and took classes in drama, … once being paired with Matt Damon as a scene partner during a drama class.”

Not your typical Supreme Court nominee.