President Joe Biden is considering at least three justices for an expected Supreme Court vacancy as he prepares to quickly make good on his campaign promise to nominate the first black woman for the nation’s highest court, according to advisers and allies.
Biden and Judge Stephen Breyer are expected to hold an event at the White House on Thursday to formally announce Breyer’s plans to step down, according to a person briefed on the planning who was not authorized to discuss it publicly ahead of time.
Early discussions of a successor center around US Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, US District Judge J. Michelle Childs and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, according to four people. familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss White House deliberations. Jackson and Kruger have long been seen as possible nominees.
Since Biden took office in January 2021, he has focused on nominating a diverse group of judges for the federal bench, installing five black women on the federal appeals courts, with three more nominations pending before the Senate. Other potential high court candidates could come from that pool, Biden aides and allies said, especially since nearly every recent Supreme Court nominee has been a federal appellate judge.
“You have a strong group to select a candidate, in addition to other sources. This is a historic opportunity to appoint someone with a strong civil and human rights record,” said Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP.
By the end of his first year, Biden had been confirmed by 40 justices, the most since President Ronald Reagan. Of those, 80% are women and 53% are people of color, according to the White House.
Jackson, 51, was nominated by President Barack Obama to be a district court judge. Biden elevated it to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Earlier in his career, he was also Breyer’s legal assistant.
Childs, a federal judge in South Carolina, has been nominated but not yet confirmed to serve on the same circuit court. Her name has come up in part because she is a favorite among some high-profile lawmakers, including Rep. James Clyburn, DS.C.
A graduate of Harvard and Yale law schools, Kruger previously clerked for the Supreme Court and has argued a dozen cases before judges as a federal government attorney.
Breyer, 83, will retire at the end of the summer, according to two sources who confirmed the news to The Associated Press on Wednesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to preempt Breyer’s formal announcement.
But the Senate can confirm a successor before there is a formal vacancy, so the White House was getting down to business and it was expected to be at least a few weeks before a nomination was finalized.
Biden said Wednesday that he was not going to preempt Breyer’s announcement.
“Each judge should have the opportunity to decide what he or she is going to do and announce it on their own,” Biden said. ”
When Biden ran for the White House, he said that if he had the opportunity to nominate someone to the court, he would make history by choosing a black woman. And he has reiterated that promise ever since.
“As president, it would be an honor, an honor to name the first African-American woman. Because it should look like the country. It’s about time,” Biden said in February 2020 shortly before the South Carolina presidential primary.
Adding a black woman to the court would mean a series of firsts: four female justices and two black justices serving at the same time on the nine-member court. Justice Clarence Thomas is the only black judge on the court and only the second, after Thurgood Marshall.
And Biden would have an opportunity to show black voters increasingly frustrated with a president they helped elect that he takes their concerns seriously, particularly after he has failed to push through voting rights legislation.
At the same time, Breyer’s replacement by another liberal justice would not change the ideological makeup of the court. Conservatives outnumber liberals 6-3, and Donald Trump’s three nominees made an already conservative court even more conservative.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said Biden’s nominee “will receive an immediate hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate very quickly.” deliberate”.
But Republicans in particular remain upset over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious 2018 hearing. Still, Democrats have the 50 votes plus a runoff in Vice President Kamala Harris they need to confirm a candidate.
Republicans who changed Senate rules during the Trump era to allow simple majority confirmation of Supreme Court nominees seemed resigned to the outcome. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an influential Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement: “If all Democrats stick together, which I hope they will, they will have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022. without a Republican vote in support.”
Yet Democrats have also been unable to get all of their members on board with Biden’s social and environmental spending agenda or move forward with a voting rights bill.
As a senator, Biden served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and oversaw six Supreme Court confirmation hearings between 1987 and 1995, including Breyer’s.
And one person who will be central to the Biden process is Chief of Staff Ron Klain, a former Supreme Court clerk and senior adviser to that committee.
Two other black women Biden appointed to the federal appeals courts are also seen as contenders: Holly Thomas, a longtime civil rights attorney who appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals from United States.
Biden could also pick someone outside the judiciary, though that seems less likely. One contender would be the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill, 59. He has run the fund since 2013 and has announced he will step down in the spring.
The Supreme Court has had three women on it for more than a decade, since 2010, when Obama appointed Justice Elena Kagan to the court to replace retiring John Paul Stevens. Kagan was joined by Obama’s other nominee, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina justice, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When Ginsburg died in September 2020, Trump announced his choice of Amy Coney Barrett eight days later.
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.