By Micha Green,
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor
mgreen@afro.com

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring, ushering in room for President Joe Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and it’s got a lot of people talking.

“Black women saved our fricken’ democracy, so I don’t give two fiddly figs if you’re ‘offended’ at reserving a place for a Black woman on the SCOTUS,” Twitter Erich wrote, receiving a viral response.

“One reason I wish Biden hadn’t pledged to nominate a Black woman for SCOTUS but had just done it is that I would love a scenario where a Dem POTUS is just appointing Black women to every high-level position and then saying, ‘I’m just hiring the best,’” someone named Stephen Robinson wrote.

Now let’s make it clear, this SCOTUS appointee conversation is just historic, but Biden is not new to these Black women appointees for judges.  He’s true to this.

“We analyzed Biden’s court appointees to better understand his SCOTUS picks, and what we found is that he’s appointing more Black women to the courts than any other president,” Sarah E. Frostenson wrote on Twitter about a FiveThirtyEight article.

Biden’s leading candidates include: Ketanji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger, J. Michelle Childs, Sherrilyn Ifill, Melissa Murray, Holly Thomas, Eunice Lee, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi and Wilhelmina Wright.

All these women are no slouches.  They’re all bosses in their own right. 

Jackson is a double Harvard grad (undergraduate and Law School) and worked as law clerk to Breyer.  President Barack Obama nominated her as a federal trial court judge in D.C. in 2013 and Biden elevated her to the U.S. Court Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a position she has held since June 2021. She also was one of the three judges who ruled against former President Donald Trump’s effort to shield documents from the House’s investigation on the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.  

If working for the very man who she could replace and having Presidential appointments are not enough, Jackson, 51, is also sort of related to former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, whose brother in law is the twin brother of Jackson’s husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson.

Then there’s Kruger, 45, who has been on the California Supreme Court since 2015.  She is seen as a moderate on the seven-person Court and would be the first person in more than 40 years, and the second person in history to ascend directly from the state court to the Supreme Court.  The first was the barrier-breaking first woman to sit on the Supreme Court Sandra Day O’Connor.  

Born to a Jamaican mother and Jewish father who are both pediatricians, Kruger went to Harvard and received a law degree from Yale.  Similarly to Jackson, Kruger worked as a law clerk for a Supreme Court Justice, her boss was Justice John Paul Stevens.

Childs, 55, was recently nominated by Biden to be on the D.C. Federal Court of Appeals, but the Senate has not acted.  The University of South Carolina law and grad school graduate, who has worked as a state court judge and a federal trial court judge since 2010, is being heavily endorsed by Biden’s close Congressional ally Rep. James Clyburne (D-SC). Clyburne contends her lack of Ivy League education and rare opportunities to go before the highest Court makes her a perfect fit to sit on the SCOTUS because she can truly empathize with each case that is considered.

“Judge Childs has everything I think it takes to be a great justice,” Clyburne said. “We’ve got to recognize that people come from all walks of life, and we ought not dismiss anyone because of that.”

Ifill, who currently serves as the Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), is a contender though she has never served as a judge.  Holding the post since 2013, though she recently announced that she was stepping down in June, Ifill’s work with the NAACP LDF as a civil rights lawyer has been long respected and lauded.

The 59-year-old civil rights attorney is a graduate of Vassar College and New York University School of Law and started her career with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  In addition to all her hard work as a lawyer, Ifill also taught at University of Maryland Law School for more than 20 years and was appointed by Biden to study the Supreme Court in 2021.

New York University Law Professor Murray, 45, is also outside the judiciary, but still a contender as former clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor when she was at the U.S. Court of Appeals. The University of Virginia and Yale Law School graduate teaches family, reproductive rights and constitutional law at NYU.  

Murray is also respected for her published law reviews and musings on law related work and workers in major publications such a the {New York Times} and {Vanity Fair}.

At 43, Thomas is already making groundbreaking contributions as she was recently confirmed to the largest court of appeals- the San Francisco based U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit, becoming only the second Black woman in history to sit on that court. The Stanford University and Yale Law grad previously worked for the NAACP LDF and had been in the Family Law Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court since 2018.  

Thomas has fought for civil rights and justice issues in the court, including transgender bathroom rights.  She was confirmed after a deadlock vote that required another floor vote due to Republican Senators worried about her ability to separate her advocacy work from her duties as a judge at her confirmation hearing she emphasized that was not the case.

Lee, 57, was barrier-breaking when she became the first former federal defender to be named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in August 2021.  The University of Ohio and Yale Law graduate was recently interviewed by the President for her current position.  

Before her work as a federal defender or a judge on the 2nd Court, Lee was a law clerk for the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit.

Jackson-Akiwumi, 43, was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals 7th Circuit on a bi-partisan vote in June. The Princeton and Yale Law graduate with a defense attorney background worked as a law clerk for a U.S. District Court Judge and then for the U.S. Court of Appeals 4th Circuit.

Wright is also groundbreaking, making history as Minnesota’s first Black woman federal judge in 2015. She is also the only jurist in Minnesota’s history to have served on the District, Appellate and State Supreme Courts.  

The 58-year-old judge graduated from Yale and Harvard Law School before first clerking in the U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit. Wright then went into private practice in education law to find ways to help improve education for public school children, then she went on to become a federal prosecutor before going on to become a Minnesota state judge.

All nine of these women have impressive resumes to match their consideration.  

While some are celebrating the potential of a Black women sitting on the highest Court, others look at Biden’s emphasis on nominating a Black women as offensive.

“It’s insulting to women to nominate a Black women to SCOTUS because she’s a Black woman. This is tokenism x2! All women should reject it. Otherwise, how are women supposed to know if they’re hired based on qualifications or to fill a gender quota?? Biden is harming women,” tweeted conservative commentator Liz Wheeler.

However, even without being Black or women, many acknowledge these speculated candidates all have the chops to sit on the Supreme Court.

“From prominent judges to former Supreme Court clerks, the Black women is considering for SCOTUS are among our nation’s brightest legal minds.  These women are more than qualified. Anyone who says otherwise should do some soul-searching,” tweeted Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY).

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor