Jurisprudence

Ketanji Brown Jackson Is Related to … Paul Ryan?

Her husband’s brother is married to his wife’s sister. Got that?

Jackson smiles broadly as she stands at a lectern with Biden smiling behind her
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, seen here with President Joe Biden, was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday. Saul Loeb/Getty Images

On Friday morning, President Joe Biden formally announced his nominee for the Supreme Court seat Stephen Breyer plans to vacate. Ketanji Brown Jackson, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was considered an immediate front-runner for the nomination—and sure enough, Biden tapped Jackson, who was formerly a clerk for Breyer as well as public defender, for the role.

The South Carolina Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, who’d favored a South Carolinian nominee, were disappointed. (Scott said it was a missed opportunity to nominate a judge “who would have garnered widespread bipartisan support”; Graham blamed the “radical Left.”)

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But Jackson does have a lot of support from at least one prominent Republican: former speaker of the House and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

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Ryan’s across-the-aisle respect for Jackson stems from a familial connection. Jackson and Ryan are related by marriage: Jackson’s husband has a twin brother, who is married to Ryan’s wife’s sister.

In case that’s a little hard to wrap your brain around, let me put it another way: Jackson and Ryan both have spouses. Each of those spouses has a sibling. And those two siblings are married to one another. That may seem like a lot of degrees of separation until you think about how families work. If you’re Jackson or Ryan, you’re definitely going to your spouse’s family gatherings, which their siblings probably attend with their own respective spouses. If their families are moderately functional, they probably see each other a fair amount.

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At any rate, Ryan thought highly enough of Jackson to recommend her as a district court judge during her nomination hearing in 2012. He was a member of Congress, fresh off his stint as Mitt Romney’s running mate, and he joined Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton to introduce Jackson to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I know she is clearly qualified. But it bears repeating just how qualified she is,” Ryan said in his testimony, listing the highlights of her résumé. “I am here to serve as a character witness. I know her. We are family by marriage. … We are all extremely proud of her.”

Ryan went on to extol the qualities his sister-in-law thrice removed (?) would bring to the court.

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“Our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, for her integrity, it is unequivocal,” he said. “She is an amazing person, and I favorably recommend her consideration.”

Ryan’s testimony in favor of Jackson was notable not just for its bipartisanship, but also for its timing. Barack Obama had nominated Jackson for the district court seat in September 2012, but the Senate didn’t have time to confirm her before the November election. If Ryan and Romney had won, Jackson likely would not have gotten a Senate hearing at all. Those months in between Jackson’s nomination and confirmation hearing were so nerve-racking, she has said, that she stress-knitted enough scarves to outfit “a small army.”

Upon Jackson’s official nomination this morning, Ryan issued a tweet of congratulations, which appears to be ripped directly from his 2012 testimony. He and his wife, he tweeted, are “incredibly happy for Ketanji and her entire family. Our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, and for her integrity, is unequivocal.”

It’s been almost exactly a decade since Ryan first offered unequivocal “praise for Ketanji’s intellect, for her character, for her integrity.” Guess the old talking points will do.

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