Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said Wednesday if she is confirmed as the next justice on the high court, she will recuse herself from a case over alleged discrimination practices in Harvard University's admissions.
Jackson's commitment comes as the Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments this fall in one of the most significant cases before the court regarding race-based admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"So now you're on the Board of Overseers of Harvard. If you're confirmed, do you intend to recuse from this lawsuit?" Republican Sen. Ted Cruz asked.
"That is my plan, senator," Jackson said.
ACADEMICS DEBATE WHETHER JACKSON SHOULD RECUSE HERSELF IN HARVARD ADMISSIONS CASE
Following President Joe Biden's nomination of Jackson in February to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, numerous legal experts raised awareness of her five-year membership on Harvard's board of overseers, noting it could raise a conflict of interest if Jackson were to weigh the case as a future justice.
While Jackson's term on the board concludes May 26, federal law stipulates federal judges must recuse themselves whenever their "impartiality might reasonably be questioned" or when "the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding."
It is not immediately clear what degree the board is involved in establishing admissions policies.
In January, justices agreed to hear challenges to policies at both universities after the high court begins its fall term later this year. The challenges were brought by the conservative nonprofit group Students for Fair Admissions.
Although Harvard is a private institution, SSFA has challenged the school because it receives federal funding and has accused the college's policies of violating civil rights law by discriminating on the basis of race, claiming the institutions engaged in racial discrimination against Asians.
In December, the Biden administration filed a brief at the Supreme Court calling on the court to reject an appeal from the group that sued the Ivy League schools.
The SSFA petition for the Supreme Court to take the case asked the court to overrule its prior cases upholding affirmative action in college admissions, most notably its 2003 landmark case Grutter v. Bollinger. In their brief supporting Harvard, the Biden administration asked the court to reject that petition.
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“The principles that Grutter articulated are correct,” the Biden administration said in its filing. “The Court explained that the educational benefits of diversity may qualify as a compelling interest because a university may conclude that those benefits are ‘essential to its educational mission.’”
The case will likely be heard during the session beginning in October, with a decision by June 2023.