COLLIN LONG, ZIK MILLER, and DARLEEN SUPERVILLE
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday reaffirmed his pledge to nominate the first black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it was “long overdue.” He praised outgoing Justice Stephen Breuer as a model civil servant and promised to nominate a candidate by the end of February.
Breuer joined Biden at the White House a day after the 83-year-old’s pending resignation became known.
Since Biden took office in January 2021, he has focused on appointing a diverse group of judges to the federal panel not just for racing, but for merit. He has nominated five black women to federal appeals courts, and three more nominations are pending in the Senate.
“I have not made any decision other than one person that I will nominate, which will be a person of outstanding qualifications, character, experience and integrity,” Biden said as Breuer stood by. “And this person will be the first black woman ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is high time”.
By the end of his first year, Biden had 40 judges confirmed, the most since President Ronald Reagan. According to the White House, 80% of them are women and 53% are people of color.
Replacing Breuer with another liberal judge will not change the ideological face of the court. The Conservatives outnumber the Liberals 6:3, and Donald Trump’s three candidates have pushed the court even further to the right.
Biden has already met in person with at least one top candidate, Ketaji Brown Jackson, 51, a former Breyer clerk who served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission and has been a trial federal court judge for the District of Columbia since 2013. They met when Biden interviewed her for her current position as judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, where she has served since June last year.
Early discussions about a successor focused on Jackson, U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Krueger, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the White House discussion. Jackson and Krueger have long been considered as possible candidates.
“He has a strong candidate selection pool in addition to other sources. This is a historic opportunity to nominate someone with a great track record in civil and human rights,” said Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP.
Jackson, 51, was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as a district court judge. Biden promoted her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Early in her career, she also worked as a clerk for Breuer. Biden has already met her in person, he interviewed her for her current post.
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 of the top legislators, including Rep. James Clyburn, DS.C.
Krueger, a graduate of Harvard and Yale Law School, was previously a Supreme Court clerk and appeared before judges in a dozen cases as a federal government lawyer.
Breyer, 83, will retire at the end of the summer, according to sources who confirmed the news to The Associated Press on Wednesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to prejudge Breuer’s official announcement.
But the Senate can confirm a successor before there’s an official vacancy, so the White House gets to work. It is expected that it will be at least a few weeks before the nomination is formalized.
When Biden ran for the White House, he said that if he had the opportunity to nominate someone to court, he would make history by choosing a black woman. And he has since lived up to that promise.
“As president, it will be an honor for me, an honor to appoint the first African American woman. Because it should look like a country. It’s high time,” Biden said in February 2020, shortly before the South Carolina presidential primaries.
The addition of a black woman to the court will mean a series of innovations—four female judges and two black judges will simultaneously serve on a nine-member court. Judge Clarence Thomas is the only black judge on the court, and only second to Thurgood Marshall.
And Biden will have a chance to show black voters who are growing frustrated with the president they helped elect that he takes their concerns seriously, especially after he failed to push through voting rights legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said that Biden’s nominee “will be immediately reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be reviewed and approved by the entire United States Senate with the utmost speed.”
Republicans remain upset by Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial 2018 hearing. However, the Democrats have the 50 votes plus a tie-break from Vice President Kamala Harris that they need to confirm the nominee.
Republicans, who changed the rules of the Senate in the Trump era to allow Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority, appear to have resigned themselves to the outcome. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a powerful Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement: “If all Democrats stick together – and I expect they will – they will have the power to replace Judge Breyer in 2022 without a single Republican vote. to support.”
However, the Democrats also failed to get all of their members to participate in Biden’s social and environmental spending program or push the voting rights bill forward.
As a senator, Biden served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, overseeing six Supreme Court confirmation hearings from 1987 to 1995, including the Breuer hearing.
And one person who will play a central role in the Biden trial is chief of staff Ron Klein, a former Supreme Court clerk and chief adviser to the Judiciary Committee.
Biden could also choose someone who is not currently a judge, though that seems less likely. One of the applicants will be the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, 59-year-old Sherilyn Ifill. She has led the fund since 2013 and announced in the spring that she was stepping down.
Three women have served on the Supreme Court for more than a decade, starting in 2010 when Obama appointed Justice Elena Kagan to replace the retiring John Paul Stevens. Kagan joined another Obama nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Hispanic judge, and Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When Ginsburg died in September 2020, Trump announced his choice of Amy Coney Barrett eight days later.
Associated Press contributor Mark Sherman contributed to this report.