Historic Supreme Court Choice to Align With Black History Month
President Biden is coming through on a 2020 campaign promise and plans to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court this month. The significant—and timely—choice will coincide with Black History Month.
When President Biden formally announced the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in January, he reiterated his commitment to nominating the first Black woman to the court by the end of February—which is also Black History Month.
“The person I will nominate will be someone of extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court,” Biden said. “I made that commitment during the campaign for president, and I will keep that commitment.”
The first Black woman to serve as a federal appeals court judge—often considered to be an important qualification for becoming a Supreme Court justice—was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
“Women of color are significantly underrepresented on the bench, Black women in particular,” said Judge Elizabeth A. White (ret.), president of the National Association of Women Judges, who served 23 years on the Los Angeles Supreme Court. “If the courts don’t accurately reflect the population at large, we lose trust and confidence in the courts, which is so essential to justice.”
Having a Black woman’s voice and perspective on the court would be particularly timely, especially as the country continues to grapple with the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and other serious incidents, which led to nationwide protests against racial injustice. “It’s important that the population be reflected in those that are making decisions on behalf of all of us,” White said.
According to the American Bar Association’s 2021 Profile of the Legal Profession [PDF], just 4.7 percent of American lawyers are Black and 37 percent of lawyers are female. “We’ve made tremendous progress, but we need to continue to make progress, particularly for women of color,” White said.
“Every single justice has the opportunity to leave a legacy. Sandra Day O’Connor left an important legacy,” said White. O’Connor was the first woman nominated to the Supreme Court in 1980 by President Ronald Reagan. “I think a Black woman justice will leave a legacy that doesn’t necessarily reflect her race but will make inroads on behalf of all Black women.”
Biden’s announcement during Black History Month is noteworthy. “What an amazing time to have a Black candidate to the Supreme Court,” White said. “It’s kismet.”
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