judge in recent decades: defending corporate clients, serving as a prosecutor or working in politics. Many judges have followed more than one of the paths.
The Supreme Court reflects this pattern. Seven current justices worked as corporate lawyers at some point (Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas). Seven worked either in the White House or in a cabinet department (Gorsuch, Kagan, Kavanaugh, Roberts, Thomas, Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer). Five worked as prosecutors (Alito, Breyer, Kavanaugh, Sotomayor and Thomas).
Ketanji Brown Jackson, whose confirmation hearings began yesterday, fits the pattern, too. She spent seven years as a corporate lawyer, in Boston and Washington, including a year at the same boutique firm where Barrett once worked and Kavanaugh spent a summer.
But Jackson has also held a job that makes her distinct from any current justice — and that job is shaping her confirmation hearings.
She spent two and a half years as a federal public defender in Washington, representing defendants who could not afford to hire a private lawyer. In that role, unlike many other legal jobs, she could not choose whom she did and did not represent.
Her time as a public defender means that she would become the only current justice who has spent a substantial amount of time defending poor people. It also seems to be consistent with her judicial philosophy. At other points in her career, Jackson wrote articles about unfairness in the justice system and served on the federal Sentencing Commission, which took steps to reduce mass incarceration