At her confirmation hearing before the Senate seven years ago, Amy Berman Jackson testified that, as a judge, she would be able to relate to “people from all walks of life.”
“My trial experience,” she said, “has given me a good understanding of the importance of judicial temperament.”
In six years on the bench, Jackson’s judicial temperament has been on full display as she’s presided over high-profile cases including a class action over the Office of Personnel Management’s data breach and the Justice Department’s blockbuster challenge last year to Anthem Inc.’s proposed $54 billion acquisition of Cigna Corp. Now assigned to the case against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jackson has found herself thrust into a considerably brighter spotlight.
Jackson, a former Trout Cacheris litigation partner in Washington, was confirmed in 2011. She graduated in 1979 from Harvard Law School—where her classmates included Chief Justice John Roberts. She also served as a law clerk to Judge Harrison Winter of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia before going into private practice.
Here’s what else to know about the judge presiding over the first charges out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election:
She dismissed the OPM data breach class action. In September, Jackson dismissed a consolidated class action lawsuit filed over the massive 2015 data breach at the Office of Personnel Management, which has been appealed and is pending in the federal appeals court in D.C. In her 74-page opinion, the judge wrote that both the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, failed to show they suffered concrete injuries and therefore did not have standing to bring their claims.
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partners Jason Mendro and Joseph Warin, who represented a government contractor defendant in the case, told the National Law Journal at the time that Jackson’s decision would provide meaningful guidance to both courts and litigants in future data breach litigation. Warin added that Jackson was both quick and thoughtful in her questioning during the case, and had clearly done her homework.
“As soon as she got on the bench, Jason and I thought, ‘Boy, this is great’,” Warin said in September. “It’s fun. It’s why you become a lawyer. The shorthand expression is ‘hot bench.’ It’s what you dream about.”
She oversaw the Fast and Furious document fight. Jackson oversaw the 2012 lawsuit filed by the Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform against former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. over his refusal to turn over documents on the investigation into the botched gun sting operation, known as “Operation Fast and Furious.” The case is now held in abeyance on appeal in the D.C. Circuit, but it was Jackson who ruled in January 2016 that the Obama administration could not claim executive privilege over some of the documents.
Jackson also ruled in 2013 against the administration’s argument that the court did not have jurisdiction over the dispute between the executive and legislative branches of government. The decision came during the government shutdown that year, and the Justice Department requested a stay of the litigation, which the plaintiffs protested. Jackson, despite having just ruled against DOJ on jurisdiction, sided with the agency and called out the lawmakers for their role in the shutdown.
“There are no exigent circumstances in this case that would justify an order of the Court forcing furloughed attorneys to return to their desks,” Jackson wrote. “Moreover, while the vast majority of litigants who now must endure a delay in the progress of their matters do so due to circumstances beyond their control, that cannot be said of the House of Representatives, which has played a role in the shutdown that prompted the stay motion.”
She blocked the Anthem-Cigna deal. In February, she sided with the Justice Department and blocked Anthem’s proposed acquisition of Cigna, finding the reduced competition in the health insurance market would hurt consumers. Her decision to grant a preliminary injunction against the deal came just weeks after Judge John Bates, citing “serious concerns,” blocked Aetna’s proposed acquisition of Humana. The Justice Department sued to block both deals in July 2016, saying they would lead to an “unprecedented consolidation in the health insurance industry.”
Jackson was struck by the tension between Anthem and its seemingly unwilling merger partner, Cigna. In the buildup to the antitrust trial, she commented that it was “extraordinary” for Cigna’s defense team to ask for permission to object to questions from Anthem. It was a “bizarre situation,” she said, to be accommodating a deal Cigna no longer appeared to desire.
“Well, it’s completely extraordinary. I’ve never seen it done even in a criminal trial with multiple co-defendants,” Jackson said. “It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before. I have trouble even wrapping my mind around it.”
”I’m not going to tell you that it’s prohibited but I find it highly extraordinary,” she added.
She sentenced former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Jackson sentenced Jesse Jackson Jr., the former congressman from Illinois and son of the civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., to 30 months in prison in 2013 for using roughly $750,000 in campaign money to fund a luxurious lifestyle.
Jackson’s wife, Sandi Jackson, was sentenced to one year in prison. At the sentencing hearing, the judge said she received letters from Jackson’s supporters, including his father, urging her not to impose prison time. But she refused, saying that doing so would give the impression of two justice systems, one for “well-connected” people and “one for everybody else.”
The judge is not related to the Jacksons, despite the same last name.
She upheld the FDA rule regulating e-cigarettes like tobacco. In July, Jackson ruled for the Food and Drug Administration in a lawsuit challenging the agency’s decision to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way it does conventional cigarettes. The plaintiffs, a vaping company and e-cigarette advocates, said the FDA crossed a line when it deemed e-cigarettes to be tobacco products.
In a 93-page opinion, Jackson described the FDA’s authority under the Tobacco Control Act, and noted that Congress gave the FDA “broad authority” and that it was “not arbitrary and capricious for the agency to decide to take that action with respect to e-cigarettes.”
An appeal of Jackson’s decision is pending in the D.C. Circuit.