On January 27th, 2022, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his retirement, opening a spot for President Biden to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice. Biden publicly affirmed that the new Supreme Court justice would be a Black woman and that he would declare a nominee by the end of February.
"Our process is going to be rigorous," assured Biden. "I've made no decision except one: The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It's long overdue in my view."
No black woman has ever served on the federal Supreme Court, and Biden’s decision will be historically remembered for breaking racial boundaries in America.
The nomination holds great symbolism for Black female judges and law students across America. Sheryll Cashin, a Professor of Law, Civil Rights, and Social Justice at Georgetown Law, shared, “On a personal level, assuming Biden follows through with his promise and does nominate a Black American woman, it will be a source of enormous pride— that Black women’s legacy of excellent contributions to the American experiment is being recognized and will continue…
"My guess is that the day Biden nominates a Black woman, there will be many Black girls across the nation who will see themselves for the first time as future lawyers and judges, and that will contribute to diversifying the profession.”
Judge Bernice B. Donald of The U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit, similarly stated, “African American women have long been a critical part of the struggle for equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity. We have championed the cause of justice; we have championed diversity, equity and inclusion; and we have fought for the rights of others. There are so many extraordinarily well-qualified African American women poised and ready to serve. I thank President Biden for recognizing that fact.”
In stark contrast to the celebration and gratitude for Biden’s decision, he was also met with backlash from many conservatives. Aaron Blake of The Washington Post details the standpoints of various conservative political commentators and figures on the matter, revealing that on the Fox News political talk show Tucker Carlson Tonight, television host Tucker Carlson claimed, “It’s possible we have all marinated for so long in the casual racism of affirmative action that it seems normal now to reduce human beings to their race.”
Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator, called Biden’s decision “definitionally affirmative action and race discrimination.” Similarly, Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador under President Trump, expressed, “Would be nice if Pres Biden chose a Supreme Court nominee who was best qualified without a race/gender litmus test.”
However, Blake contends that Republican Presidents such as Reagan and Trump announced similar gender-based appointments of Supreme Court Justices. After the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump vowed to replace her with a woman before appointing Amy Coney Barrett. Near the end of Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, he promised to pick “the most qualified woman I can possibly find,” asserting that “it is time for a woman to sit among the highest jurists.”
Decades after Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 eliminated employment discrimination on the basis of sex and race, racial and gender disparities continue to exist within the legislative workforce, as only five-percent of federal judges are Black women. Despite the controversy regarding Biden’s promise to appoint the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, Biden ultimately takes an imperative step towards diversifying America’s legal system.
Blake, Aaron. “The Very Selective Effort to Cast Biden's Supreme Court Pick as an Affirmative Action Hire.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Jan. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/27/biden-scotus-pick-conservative-criticism/.
Colleen Long, Zeke Miller. “Biden: Ready for 'Long Overdue' Pick of Black Female Justice.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 27 Jan. 2022, https://apnews.com/article/voting-rights-stephen-breyer-joe-biden-us-supreme-court-race-and-ethnicity-8dd8cdc06986f97cc87961b7bce4f36a.
Kingsberry, Janay, and Julianne McShane. “Black Female Judges, Law Students and More on What the Supreme Court Nomination Means to Them.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Jan. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/01/28/black-women-in-law-supreme-court-nomination.
Naylor, Brian. “Supreme Court Justice Breyer Formally Announces His Retirement.” NPR, NPR, 28 Jan. 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/01/27/1076091746/supreme-court-justice-breyer-retire-announce-biden-white-house.
Reston, Maeve. “Analysis: Trump Vows to Appoint a Woman to Supreme Court as Vacancy Re-Energizes His Political Prospects.” CNN, Cable News Network, 20 Sept. 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/20/politics/trump-supreme-court-woman-nominee-2020/index.html.
About the Author:
Nidhi Rao is a high school sophomore and the current secretary of her class. Since childhood, Nidhi has been passionate about gaining new perspectives on political issues and hopes to inform and inspire others by writing in The Alcott Youth Magazine. In her spare time, she is interested in painting, hiking, kayaking, reading, and listening to music.