On February 25, the White House announced that President Joe Biden intends to nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Circuit Judge on the powerful United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to the Supreme Court seat soon to be vacated by Justice Stephen Breyer. If confirmed by the Senate, Jackson will become the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, fulfilling a long-overdue pledge that Biden made on the campaign trail.

Jackson was nominated to the D.C. Circuit last year, and prior to that spent eight years as a District Judge for the District of Columbia. Before ascending to the federal bench, Jackson briefly served as a federal public defender, a credential that has excited progressives, and several major labor unions have applauded her nomination to the Court. Nonetheless, relatively scant attention has been paid to Jackson’s judicial record on labor and employment issues.

Although Jackson has authored nearly 500 opinions as a judge, she hasn’t decided an abundance of labor or employment cases during her tenure on the bench. Nevertheless, Jackson has handed down several prounion rulings — at least a couple of which were sufficiently notable to capture national media attention.

Judge Jackson delivered a notable win for public-sector unions earlier this month, in AFL-CIO v. Federal Labor Relations Authority, a case before the D.C. Circuit. That case — the first opinion penned by Jackson as a circuit judge — consisted of a challenge filed by several public-sector unions to a policy change announced by the Federal Labor Relations Authority that restricted the scope of workplace changes subject to mandatory collective bargaining. Judge Jackson vacated, as arbitrary and capricious pursuant to § 706(2)(A) of the Administrative Procedure Act, the FLRA’s decision to reverse its longstanding interpretation of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute as requiring that federal employers engage in collective bargaining with their employees’ unions whenever they institute a workplace change that has more than a de minimis effect on employment conditions. The FLRA, however, controlled by Trump appointees, sought to raise that threshold, announcing in a policy statement that a federal agency would be required to bargain over only such management changes that had a “substantial impact on a condition of employment,” the standard used by the National Labor Relations Board in the private sector. In her opinion, Jackson first noted “the appropriateness of a de minimis exception to the duty to bargain” and ultimately dismissed the federal labor board’s policy reversal as “unreasoned and unreasonable.” Slate Magazine deemed the case “a major victory for federal unions.”

During her tenure as a trial judge, Jackson rendered several decisions favorable to labor. In 2018, Jackson made headlines when she invalidated three executive orders issued by then-President Trump, which were designed, in her words, “to restrict the scope and effectiveness of federal employees’ right to collective bargaining.” Among other things, the EOs had imposed temporal limits on contractual negotiations between unions and federal agencies, removed certain subjects from the bargaining table, restricted the ability of federal employees to participate in union activities at work, and made it easier for federal agencies to discharge workers. Judge Jackson struck down the EOs, concluding that “the President has overstepped his bounds” because the challenged provisions “impermissibly infringe upon the right to collective bargaining,” “effectively reduce the scope of the right to bargain collectively,” and “have the cumulative effect” of “evisercat[ing] the right to bargain collectively.” A conservative panel of the D.C. Circuit later overturned Judge Jackson’s ruling.

In 2020, District Judge Jackson enjoined, in a case brought by the AFL-CIO, central provisions of a final rule promulgated by the Trump NLRB designed to deliberately delay the union-election process, delighting management-side lawyers. More specifically, the Board’s election rule sought to rescind an earlier NLRB regulation, issued in 2014 by the Obama Board, which implemented new election procedures seeking to facilitate and expedite the certification of new bargaining representatives in the workplace. The Trump Board declined to issue its election rule through notice-and-comment rulemaking, asserting that because the rule was one of “procedure,” it was exempt from such requirements under § 553(b)(A) of the APA. But Jackson disagreed, holding that the rule “reaches far outside the Board’s internal operations” and, consequently, “must be held unlawful and set aside.”

In a 2015 case, District Judge Jackson upheld an arbitration judgment awarded to a UNITE HERE local, pursuant to the collective-bargaining agreement executed between the union and a food-service company. The union alleged that the company had improperly delegated to nonunion workers certain tasks reserved for union members, and an arbitrator, adjudicating the dispute pursuant to the grievance procedures specified in the CBA, rendered a judgment in favor of the union. The company refused to comply, and Jackson not only upheld the arbitrator’s award but also went one step further and exercised her discretionary powers to grant attorneys’ fees to the union.

Not all of Jackson’s opinions as a District Judge were unabashedly proworker, however. In the case of Ross v. Lockheed Martin Corp., thousands of black workers employed by Lockheed Martin Corporation filed a putative class action lawsuit against the weapons manufacturing behemoth, alleging, under a Title VII disparate impact theory, that the firm had engaged in systematic racial discrimination, and seeking both a certification of the proposed class and judicial approval of a preliminary settlement agreement secured with the defense giant worth $22.8 million. Jackson found “several fairness-related red flags” in the settlement, most notably what she described as a “gross imbalance” between the claims at issue in the case and the “sheer breadth” of those that the class members would contractually release, which led Jackson to “the firm but reluctant conclusion” that the proposed settlement was “so potentially unfair that it cannot be preliminarily approved.” Moreover, Jackson denied the plaintiffs’ motion for precertification discovery in a later iteration of the case. Uriah W. Clemon, a retired Black U.S. district judge (who currently serves as counsel at the law firm that litigated the case), was so incensed by Jackson’s decision to “g[i]ve the axe to a settlement designed to benefit numerous black workers” that he sent Biden a letter earlier this month urging the President to decline to appoint Jackson to the Court.

Nonetheless, the handful of vigorously prounion rulings that Jackson has delivered suggest that she is sympathetic to labor. Against the backdrop of a Supreme Court that has historically displayed a devastating hostility to the working class, the labor movement is right to applaud Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the High Court.