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What Can Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Rulings Tell Us About Her Legal Outlook?

Legal scholars caution against reading too much into district court decisions. Tracey E. George, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, said, “The idea that you could look to those things to determine if someone is liberal or conservative — that’s just not been my experience.”

In her time on the district court, Judge Jackson seemed to take particular interest in criminal cases. In 2018, she forcefully rejected the government’s attempt to seize $180,000 from a drug dealer, which prosecutors said was the value of two pounds of heroin that police officers had captured. Prosecutors reasoned that the dealer, Keith J. Young, had bought the heroin with money that had been used to facilitate a crime and so was subject to forfeiture.

“Despite the fact that the government has already seized the very drugs that Young allegedly tendered $180,000 to purchase,” she wrote, “the government maintains that Young should also be ordered to forfeit an additional $180,000 as a criminal penalty.”

That theory, Judge Jackson ruled, “constitutes impermissible double counting and stretches the forfeiture doctrine beyond all reasonable limits.”

The next year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution places limits on the ability of states and localities to take and keep cash, cars, houses and other private property used to commit crimes.

Judge Jackson has called for the humane treatment of prisoners, ruling in favor of a deaf inmate whom correction officers kept in what she called “abject isolation, generally unaware of what was going on around him and unable to communicate effectively with prison officials, prison doctors, his counselor, his teacher or his fellow inmates.”

The officers “figuratively shrugged and effectively sat on their hands with respect to this plainly hearing-disabled person in their custody,” she wrote, “presumably content to rely on their own uninformed beliefs about how best to handle him and certainly failing to engage in any meaningful assessment of his needs.”

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