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Opinion: Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic rise leaves just one military veteran on the Supreme Court

Jen Psaki questions Sen. Lindsey Graham's opposition to Ketanji Brown Jackson after he supported her last year: 'She has the exact same credentials'

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Although there is no doubt that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a worthy and long-overdue addition to the Supreme Court, her tenure brings the court one step closer to completely losing an important perspective.

Once she takes the oath to step into her new role, Jackson will replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, who was a corporal in the U.S. Army. That will leave one and only one military veteran, Justice Samuel Alito, a former Army captain, on the nation's highest court.

Historically, the Supreme Court has been well staffed with veterans of the U.S. armed forces. Roughly a quarter of the 165 justices who have served on the court have been military veterans. In 1965, all nine sitting justices were veterans. And from 1972 to 2006, half of the justices appointed were veterans, with two more (Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor) being military spouses.

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What veterans provided the court

That trend, however, has faded away over the past 16 years, with fewer and fewer veterans being appointed. Alito, who was confirmed in 2006, was the last veteran appointed to the Supreme Court. Six nonveterans, including Jackson, have been confirmed as justices since then.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito addresses the graduating class at Georgetown University Law Center in 2016. © Cliff Owen/AP Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito addresses the graduating class at Georgetown University Law Center in 2016.

Veterans provide an inimitable perspective to the judiciary. According to the Supreme Court Historical Society, military service "provides a special perspective on the intersecting powers of the federal government," and "Justices who have served in the armed forces prior to serving on the Court have additional practical experience in how those powers function.”

Biden celebrates with Ketanji Brown Jackson after her Supreme Court confirmation: photos

  Biden celebrates with Ketanji Brown Jackson after her Supreme Court confirmation: photos White House photographers captured the moments before Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic Senate confirmation.Biden promised to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court during the 2020 campaign. Once Justice Stephen Breyer officially retires this summer, Jackson will be sworn in and become the nation's first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

But that unique perspective might soon be lost.

The military draft ended in the 1970s, and the switch to an all‑volunteer military has led to a shrinking representation of veterans in the U.S. population, from 18% in 1980 to about 7% today.

Some might argue that, despite veterans' invaluable perspective, an overrepresentation of veterans on the Supreme Court is not necessary. Yet nearly 65% of the general public say most Americans look up to those who have served. And by keeping their oaths, veterans prove their ability to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, accompanied by President Joe Biden, at the White House on April 8, 2022, celebrating her confirmation as the first Black woman to reach the Supreme Court. © Andrew Harnik, AP Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, accompanied by President Joe Biden, at the White House on April 8, 2022, celebrating her confirmation as the first Black woman to reach the Supreme Court.

Having no veterans on the Supreme Court would omit viewpoints grounded in core military values. In reviewing Supreme Court opinions, I found that veterans on the court often invoked military values of "integrity" and "respect." For example, numerous articles cited Justice Anthony Kennedy's repeated appeals to these values, not only in his chambers and among his colleagues, but also for the cases before him and the people involved.

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  Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic Supreme Court confirmation receives a standing ovation, cheers and praise: 'This is a watershed moment' Sen. Cory Booker said he felt "immense pride and so much joy" after Thursday's bipartisan vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. "This is a watershed moment," Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio said. Jackson was confirmed in a bipartisan vote, with three Republicans supporting her. The Senate chamber erupted with applause and cheers after Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated for the Supreme Court, was confirmed in a bipartisan vote on Thursday.

Will a veteran be our next nominee?

The opportunity is ripe to begin considering a veteran for the next available seat on the court. The average service period for Supreme Court justices is about 25 years.

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Justice Clarence Thomas has been on the bench over five years longer than that average, and he will be the oldest justice once Breyer retires. Alito will be the only sitting veteran and the court's runner‑up in age. Replacing either Thomas or Alito with a veteran would preserve America’s values and the unique insights – and burdens – that accompany military service.

Matthew N. Preston II is a law clerk for Judge Thomas L. Ludington of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Preston served six years in the U.S. Army. © Courtesy of Matthew N. Preston II Matthew N. Preston II is a law clerk for Judge Thomas L. Ludington of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Preston served six years in the U.S. Army.

Will the next Supreme Court justice be a veteran, or is the court on the verge of becoming a nonveteran echo chamber for years, perhaps decades, to come? That risk is palpable, as the average age of appointed justices is trending lower. Whether that decision will fall upon President Joe Biden (whose deceased son, Beau Biden, was a veteran) or his successor, I pray that we keep on the court an important demographic associated with defending freedom: the U.S. veteran.

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Matthew N. Preston II is a law clerk for Judge Thomas L. Ludington of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Preston served six years in the U.S. Army as a crew chief on Apache helicopters, including one year in Afghanistan. He earned his JD from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was a senior editor on the Michigan Law Review.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic rise leaves just one military veteran on the Supreme Court

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