With it being a foregone conclusion that Joe Biden will nominate a Black woman to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, attention has now turned to the qualities that a growing number of civil rights groups say the president’s pick must possess.
Beyond being a Black woman, the groups say, Biden’s nominee needs to value racial equity and not be influenced by politics in order to help bring balance to a Supreme Court that’s been heavily tilted following the confirmations of three conservative judges in the past five years.
Biden on Thursday doubled down on his campaign promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court should he have the opportunity to do so. While the opportunity is coming early in his second year as president, Biden still said it was “long overdue” and vowed to Keep that commitment” of nominating a Black woman.
“While I’ve been studying candidates’ backgrounds and writings, I’ve made no decision except one: The person I will nominate will be someone of extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court,” Biden said during a White House press conference alongside Breyer announcing the justice’s retirement.
That’s right in line with racial justice group the criteria Color of Change said Biden’s pick must have, and then some.
“We need a Supreme Court justice who will not only prioritize the needs of Black communities, but who also shares our values and deeply understands the issues Black and marginalized people face — including the ongoing, systematic attacks on our civil rights,” Color Of Change Vice President Arisha Hatch, said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “Whether it’s draconian restrictions on reproductive rights or oppressive attempts to gut voting rights across the nation, the current Supreme Court has proven it desperately needs a justice who will address these ongoing challenges with racial justice and equity at the forefront.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) said its imperative Biden’s pick have principles that are not influenced by politics.
“An ironclad commitment to upholding the rule of law is absolutely crucial. As our ongoing political crisis has made all too clear, the judiciary’s commitment to our Constitutional order is only as reliable as that of the people who serve as its judges,” the LDF said in part. “It’s essential, then, that whoever is nominated to replace Justice Breyer holds a tenacious and unwavering belief that the rule of law and the Constitution should never be sacrificed for the sake of politics. This extends, especially, to all matters of civil rights, including voting rights, educational equity, police accountability, and the elimination of discrimination across all aspects of our society.”
The NAACP said Biden must use his pick to help reverse the judicial damage — like restricting abortion rights and equal access to the ballot — that was caused by the actions of his predecessor.
“Our Supreme Court desperately requires balance,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Jackson said in a statement. “The Court was already predisposed against civil rights. Then Donald Trump, aided by the Senate which broke all traditions and customs, installed three justices who have taken the Court in an extreme direction that threatens our civil rights for a lifetime. It is time to restore the integrity and legitimacy of the Court and its role as protector of civil rights. Too much lies in the balance on voting rights, equal educational opportunity, and reproductive choice.”
On a similar note, Rev. Al Sharpton suggested that Biden’s pick has a chance to bring fairness to a rigged system.
“This opportunity presents a critical choice given that affirmative action, voting rights, and other key issues are before this court,” Sharpton said.
Biden’s ultimate pick won’t be the only Black woman on the president’s mind, as he said he would be working closely with Vice President Kamala Harris to help with select his nominee. He called Harris, the former attorney general of California, “an exceptional lawyer.”
By making that comment, Biden effectively ruled out Harris as being his choice, an unsubstantiated theory being floated around by conservative news tabloids like the New York Post and the Boston Herald likely in hopes of disrupting Democrats’ agenda for the 2024 election.
While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would trey to push through Biden’s nominee, it was unclear how Senate republicans would behave during a confirmation hearing; or if there even would be one. That’s because they blocked President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia in 2015. But now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stalled the nomination until the election of Donald Trump, who instead successfully nominated the ultra conservative Neil Gorsuch.
Circumstances between then and now are vastly different, but many of the usual Republican Senate suspects remain.
On the flip side, the woman who has consistently been mentioned as Biden’s presumptive nominee had her nomination to the federal bench confirmed by the same Senate Judiciary Committee that will confirm Breyer’s replacement.
Back in June, the Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — who was nominated by Biden — to serve on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, making her only the third Black woman to ever serve on that court.
Jackson, who was once a law clerk for Breyer, exemplifies the qualities demanded by the above racial justice groups.
The former judge with the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia since 2013 used to be vice-chairperson for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, working to reduce penalties for crack cocaine — the same drug for which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in June that low-level offenders convicted more than a decade ago can’t take advantage of a 2018 federal law to seek reduced prison time.
Biden is expected to make his decision by the end of February, which is Black History Month.
Breyer is expected to officially step down in October.