Joe Biden Poised To Nominate First Black Woman To The Supreme Court

Judges Ketanji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger and Michelle Childs have been floated as potential replacements for retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring, which means President Joe Biden will get to fill his first seat on the high court — and appoint its first Black woman justice.

Biden has long vowed to make such a historic appointment.

Among the names that have been floated as his potential pick are Ketanji Brown Jackson, a U.S. appeals court judge in Washington, D.C.; Leondra Kruger, a justice on California’s Supreme Court; Michelle Childs, a U.S. district court judge in South Carolina; Leslie Abrams Gardner, a U.S. district judge in Georgia; civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill; and even Vice President Kamala Harris.

Jackson, 51, is considered the most likely choice. She’s been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since June; previously, she had been a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2013. She is also a former public defender and previously clerked for Breyer.

The D.C. Circuit has been a launchpad for a number of Supreme Court justices. John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh all previously served on the D.C. Circuit, as did the late Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.

The Senate confirmed Jackson to her current post in a 53-44 vote, with three Republicans voting with Democrats: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). When the Senate confirmed Jackson to her previous seat on the U.S. district court in 2013, it was by a unanimous vote.

If Biden does nominate Jackson, maybe former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be in the audience for her Senate confirmation hearing. They are family, after all: The judge’s husband, Patrick Johnson, is the twin brother of Ryan’s brother-in-law William Jackson.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that he’s ready to move ahead immediately with confirmation hearings for Biden’s nominee, whoever it may be.

“President Biden’s nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed,” Schumer said.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said it’s way past time to put a Black woman onto the court.

“It is unacceptable that we have never in our nation’s history had a Black woman sit on the Supreme Court of the United States — I want to change that,” she said in a statement. “There is no shortage of exceptional nominees who would serve with the judgment, qualifications, and ethical standards each Supreme Court Justice should embody — and Black women in America should be able to look at the highest court in the land and finally see themselves represented.”

Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn in to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April 2021, after being nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn in to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April 2021, after being nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Kevin Lamarque via Reuters

For months, progressive judicial advocacy groups have been pressuring Breyer, 83, to step down to ensure that Biden can replace him on the court with a Democrat-backed judge. Former President Bill Clinton nominated Breyer in 1994.

“It is a relief that President Biden will get the opportunity to choose the next justice on the Supreme Court while the Senate is in Democratic hands,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. “Justice Breyer’s retirement is coming not a moment too soon, but now we must make sure our party remains united in support of confirming his successor.”

Demand Justice was a strong proponent of Jackson’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit last year. Without naming names, Fallon hinted Wednesday that she’d be an ideal pick for the Supreme Court, given her background as a former public defender.

“President Biden has many highly-qualified candidates to consider, but we hope he takes this opportunity to not only make good on his commitment to increase the Court’s racial diversity, but also his vision for professional diversity,” he said.

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