Ketanji Brown Jackson: Supreme Court Justice ties lessons from ‘Survivor’ reality show to opening speech


When Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson delivered her commencement address to law students at the American University on Saturday, she relied on an unexpected source of life advice: the reality TV show “Survivor”.

“I’m a huge ‘Survivor’ fan,” Jackson told American University Washington College of Law graduates in her first commencement speech since being elevated to the High Court. “That’s right. When I say ‘Survivor’ I am indeed referring to the reality TV show, where people are stranded on an island and compete to be the last person standing.

The long-running reality series served as the central theme of Jackson’s speech as she sneaked into some episodes to teach life lessons on how to survive a legal career.

“If you make the most of the resources you have, use your strengths to make your mark, and play the long game in your interactions with others, you will not only survive, but you will thrive,” she said.

Jackson, who was confirmed in court last year, barely mentioned her day job during her remarks in Washington, but she did note that May was a “busy time.” She also revealed that it was not yet fully understood that she was a Supreme Court justice.

“I still wake up some mornings confused as to whether this is really happening to me or if I’m living in a dream,” Jackson said.

His speech detailed his “incredible journey” since graduating from law school. She noted, for example, that while it is well known that she is the first African-American woman to serve on the High Court, she was also only the 40th African-American woman to be appointed to a court of federal district, and only the ninth to serve on the federal circuit court.

Jackson’s speech came as judges race to complete more than 30 opinions by the end of June that include contentious issues such as affirmative action, voting rights and religious freedom. As the most junior judge on the bench, Jackson is unlikely to be tasked with writing the majority opinion in one of the cases that captures the most public attention, especially given the strong conservative majority 6 -3 of the court. To date, she has voted with fellow liberal justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor on high-profile disputes that typically fall along traditional ideological lines.

Additionally, she was the most vocal member of the court during oral argument, often dominating the dais to ask questions. “Justice Jackson had a record tenure with over 78,800 words spoken in all arguments,” Supreme Court scholar Adam Feldman tweeted recently.

The High Court is experiencing an unusual delay in issuing its opinions, so it is difficult to piece together detailed voting patterns for Jackson. In some cases, she found herself on the side of the Conservatives.

On Saturday, she made no mention of tensions at the Supreme Court, or growing pressure from outside parties for the court to adopt a code of ethics for judges themselves.

Instead, she spoke directly to students about life in the law. Quoting the host of her favorite reality TV show, Jackson turned to the graduates and said, “Survivors ready? Go!”

“Are you ready.”


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