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Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s debut appeals court ruling sided with unions


US president Joe Biden nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court today (Feb. 25)—if confirmed, she would become the first Black woman in the role.

Her past decisions offer clues to her potential future tenure in Washington: Among them is her support for public sector labor unions in a ruling for the US Court of Appeals earlier this month.

Jackson, 51, has served as a federal judge since 2013, and was promoted to the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit last year. The DC Circuit is viewed as the second most powerful court in the US for its role influencing policy and law.

In her first written opinion as an appeals court judge, Jackson struck down a Trump-era policy that had restricted the bargaining power of public-sector workers.

Agency tried to restrict collective bargaining

Since 1985, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) had required federal employers to engage in collective bargaining with their employees’ unions when they proposed workplace changes that would have more than a “de minimis effect” on conditions. This means that agencies are required to negotiate with their employees about matters as small as changes to seating arrangements, if the impact is greater than trivial.

But the FLRA changed this policy in September 2020, requiring collective bargaining only in instances where workplace changes would have a “substantial impact on a condition of employment.” This decision effectively effectively weakened federal-sector labor unions’ bargaining power.

Jackson overturned the policy in a written opinion for the DC Circuit on Feb. 1, arguing that the reasoning the FLRA gave for overturning 35 years of precedent was “arbitrary and capricious.”

This was not the first time Jackson had sided with unions. In 2018 she ruled in favor of federal employee unions who sued the Trump administration over three executive orders restricting their bargaining power.

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