COMMENTARY: Lafayette Native Checks Boxes to Be Next Supreme Court Justice
Last Wednesday, Justice Stephen Breyer announced that he would soon be resigning from the United States Supreme Court this coming summer. Since then, Americans inside and outside the Beltway have speculated on what's next for the Supreme Court and Breyer's soon-to-be vacant seat on the court.
Who will President Biden nominate? Will that nominee be palatable for Republican senators? Even if the President nominates a "middle-of-the-road candidate," will GOP senators go forward with a vote, or will they give this nominee the Merrick Garland treatment?
We have a partial answer to that first question.
"The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court," Biden said last week after Breyer's retirement was officially announced. DC Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and Judge J. Michelle Childs of the South Carolina U. S. District Court are among the names that are reportedly on Biden's shortlist.
One name that's not been mentioned--but should be--is that of U. S. District Court Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown.
Brown is the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. She was appointed to and confirmed for the New Orleans bench in 2011 and became the circuit's chief judge in 2018. A native of Lafayette, she is a 1981 graduate of Northside High school and a 1985 graduate of the University of (Southwestern) Louisiana, where she was named her class's most outstanding graduate. From there, she attended law school at Tulane University, receiving her law degree in 1988. Prior to rising to the federal bench, Jolivette Brown worked in private practice and as a law professor before taking the position New Orleans's deputy mayor and city attorney under Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration.
The Senate confirmed Brown via voice vote after Louisiana's two senators at the time, Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter, heartily endorsed her to their colleagues.
"Her life has been committed to justice and fairness, and her own personal experiences have dictated a great deal about the way she operates, the way she thinks, her heart for justice and compassion," Mary Landrieu told her fellow senators during Brown's confirmation hearings as reported in 2011 by the Times-Picayune. That same article quoted Vitter, a Tulane classmate of Jolivette Brown, as describing the judge as having a "wonderful, warm, calm personality perfectly suited to the right demeanor a judge should have."
By all accounts, she has lived up to that reputation while on the Eastern District bench.
"Those who work closely with Judge Jolivette Brown, her law clerks and externs, are motivated by the judge’s genuine and thoughtful approach to each decision she makes," Jennifer McDonald Papa, an administrative law clerk for Judge Jolivette Brown, wrote in a profile of the judge published by the Federal Bar Association. "When asked to describe the judge, her staff says she is fair and thorough; they earn valuable insight into her philosophy of treating every party equally and thoroughly addressing each argument raised."
Jolivette Brown showed that thoroughness when answering questions asked to her by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) during her confirmation hearings. Grassley tried to bait Jolivette Brown into answering questions about "environmental racism" and "environmental justice" as it related to a newspaper quote from 2002. Jolivette Brown delivered a measured written response.
When I have written about the term “environmental justice,” I have referred to the concept as articulated in Executive Order 12898, dated February 11, 1994, entitled, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, executed by President William J. Clinton. See, Diversity Refined: Access to Justice: The Many Faces of Environmental Justice: Which One Speaks the Truth?, 56 La. B. J. 420, Apr./May 2009. The Order states in pertinent part, “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, and consistent with the principles set forth in the report on the National Performance Review, each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low income populations in the United States and its territories and possessions, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands.”
If I am confirmed as a district court judge, I would faithfully follow the precedence of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit regarding matters involving environmental law.
She has lived up to that promise to uphold legal precedence. One example: In 2015, she dismissed a lawsuit filed by a New Orleans-area levee board against oil and gas companies in which the levee board sought damages for coastal erosion.
Of course, someone will ask if Jolivette Brown would bring her personal opinions into the courtroom. Her response to that question on her 2011 nomination questionnaire should suffice.
. . . [M]y beliefs would be irrelevant and inapplicable. Should I be confirmed, I will apply the applicable precedent to the
facts before me and only consider the issues properly before me.
Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown is the Supreme Court Justice this country needs right now. She is a student of the Constitution and is dedicated to the rule of law. She has already served her country in an outstanding manner in her decade on the Eastern District bench. She is well respected by her colleagues and received bipartisan support during her confirmation to the bench. On top of all that, she would bring the diversity the President seeks to include on the Supreme Court.
If President Biden is smart, he'll take a good look at Judge Nannette Brown Jolivette's credentials and nominate her to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.