By Gordon S. Jackson
Sept. 28, 2025 – The Supreme Court’s opening session this first Monday in October will climax an unprecedented sequence of events that have dominated President Joe Biden’s second term – and left Ketanji Brown Jackson as the only remaining sitting justice.
But first, a recap. Within a month of Biden’s commencing his second term last January, two liberal justices submitted their resignations: Sonia Sotomayor, who retired unexpectedly early, and Elena Kagan to return to academe. They correctly assumed Biden would soon nominate two justices acceptable to liberals, which he did. Meanwhile, the remaining seven justices constituted a secure conservative majority of 6-1.
Then came Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s declaration. With the Republicans having regained control of the Senate in the 2024 election, he did a re-run of his Merrick Garland nomination stonewall during President Obama’s last year in office. Seeing that Biden was re-elected with only 49.3% of the popular vote, McConnell said, “The president does not truly represent the will of the American people.” Therefore, he added, “The Senate is morally obligated to withhold consideration of any Supreme Court nominees until we have a president who truly represents the majority of our citizens.”
Then, this past summer, came the stunning development of three more vacancies: Clarence Thomas resigned in response to continuing allegations of ethical violations, claiming he was the victim of “a lynching orchestrated by self-righteous hypocrites.” Next was Samuel Alito’s inexplicable disappearance while on a June family vacation in England, when he never re-emerged from the maze at Hampton Court. That was followed the next month by Chief Justice John Roberts’ tragic death in an Ikea folding chair accident.
If five stone-walled nominations were not enough to send constitutional experts into a frenzy, an even more bizarre episode of Supreme Court departures lay ahead. Earlier this month, with the depleted court gearing up for its next term, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh died when the third floor of their health club collapsed in the middle of their weekly pickleball match. That left only Amy Coney Barrett and Jackson on the court.
McConnell and his colleagues still refused even to consider the nominees (with vacancies now totaling seven) whom Biden put forward, knowing it would open the door to an 8-1 liberal court.
Then Barrett resigned, blindsiding conservatives, who had at least been hoping for a deadlocked court. Barrett said that with the current impasse between Biden and the Senate, “continuing to serve in this role is a farce and a betrayal of our country’s constitutional principles.”
To the horror of McConnell and his Senate Republican colleagues, that left the liberal Ketanji Brown Jackson, the newest appointee to the court, sole remaining justice and by default chief justice as well. She is now accompanied 24-7 by Secret Service agents, on Biden’s orders.
Senate Democrats continue to fume publicly about their intransigent Republican colleagues, while they and the Biden administration are privately thrilled at having a lone liberal on the Court. Unofficially they are eager to continue the stalemate, hoping for a series of favorable rulings on the issues due to come before Jackson. Because the Constitution doesn’t specify how many judges are required for the court to function, the Democrats contend the current one-judge court is perfectly legal.
In contrast, Republicans argue that the Founding Fathers clearly intended the court to be a deliberative body, which is impossible with only one justice on the bench. Some Republicans are murmuring about letting some of Biden’s nominees come up for a vote, but McConnell is holding firm in his opposition.
Inevitably the constitutional issues are making their way through the federal courts and several conflicting rulings are being appealed to the Supreme Court.
To resolve the crisis, Jackson has agreed to hear the case that most legal observers agree embodies the key constitutional issue: whether a lone Supreme Court judge can make legitimate rulings.
Several friends-of-the-court briefs have argued that Jackson should recuse herself, given her vested interest in the outcome. How, they ask, can she credibly endorse a “one-judge” system, that would essentially give her dictatorial powers? Opposing that option are those who point to the absurdity of a completely empty bench if she were to step aside.
Jackson is expected to begin reviewing the work her clerks have done on this case over the summer, upon her return from her skydiving-for-beginners adventure vacation in New Zealand.
Her ruling is expected in the spring.
Gordon S. Jackson is a professor emeritus of journalism at Whitworth University. His latest book is “Your Photo on God’s Fridge Door,” a series of devotional readings.