When Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz called President Joe Biden’s declaration to nominate a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court insulting, the comment alerted the entire nation that the GOP would turn a well-intentioned campaign promise into a controversy.
The announcement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement created an opportunity for President Biden to do what most aren’t able to or unwilling to accomplish: fulfill a pledge to voters who elected them.
During his first year in office, the president has worked toward a more diverse federal bench and now he has an opportunity to diversify the highest court. Only five women have served on the Supreme Court. In addition, no Black woman has ever sat on the court.
Nonetheless, Cruz attacked the president.
“The fact that he’s willing to make a promise at the outset that it must be a Black woman – that’s offensive,” Cruz blasted. “Black women are, what, 6 percent of the U.S. population? He’s saying to 94 percent of Americans: ‘I don’t give a damn about you. You are ineligible.’”
Cruz’ Texas Republican colleague John Cornyn also balked at President Biden’s proclamation.
Cornyn said the President should consider other factors beyond race.
Significantly, both Cruz and Cornyn sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, overseeing the nomination process.
The White House has already confirmed the candidacy of South Carolina U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs.
D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill also remain under consideration by the White House.
Others reportedly being considered include: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Holly A. Thomas, federal Circuit Court Judge Tiffany P. Cunningham, civil rights attorney and 11th Circuit Court candidate Nancy G. Abudu, 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Arianna J. Freeman, NYU law professor Melissa Murray, 7th Circuit Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, District Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, and 2nd Circuit Judge Eunice Lee.
President Biden said he would make his selection by the end of February.
“Our process is going to be rigorous. I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Stephen Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency,” Biden said. “While I’ve been studying candidates’ backgrounds and writings, I’ve made no decision except one: The person I 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.”
Wade Henderson, the interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Biden has already impressed with his nominations to federal courts.
He said the administration and the Senate Democratic majority have made strides to strengthen the judiciary.
“Many of today’s nominees possess significant experience practicing civil and human rights law and reflect the incredible diversity of our country,” Henderson said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted there have been 115 justices who have sat on the court since 1789. However, until 1981, no woman served, and only two African-American men have ascended to the court.
“A quarter of all African-American women who sit on the federal bench were nominated by this Administration and approved by this Senate,” Schumer said. “Twenty-five percent of African-American women who sit on the federal bench came through this Senate this year. That’s the progress we’ve made in a relatively short amount of time.”
“When Americans come before the courts and look up at those who preside in the courtroom, they should trust that those who render judgment on them will be able to understand each litigant’s lived experience and bring a modicum of human understanding required to apply the law equitably. The best way we can do that is to elevate judges from a broad range of backgrounds.”
“Diversity, in all its forms, matters. It’s good for the justice system and it’s really vital to the health of our democracy,” Schumer said.