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More Symbolism? Supreme Court Justice Breyer Announces Retirement, Black America Debates Value of Black Woman Supreme Court Justice

More Symbolism? Supreme Court Justice Breyer Announces Retirement, Black America Debates Value of Black Woman Supreme Court Justice

Supreme Court

Photo: Ketanji Brown testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations, April 28, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP, File)

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, has announced his retirement, leaving President Joe Biden with the task of nominating his replacement. Biden has promised to appoint a Black female judge to the country’s highest court.

Some wonder if such a selection is mere symbolism given that the Biden administration has yet to push through any meaningful policies for Black Americans such as the voting rights act or reparations.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, is thought to be in the running. She was confirmed by the Senate last year when Biden elevated her from the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the New York Times reported.

Brown Jackson was confirmed to the appeals court in June by a 53-to-44 vote, with all All 50 members of the Democratic caucus voting for her and three Republican senators: Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. 

She clerked for Justice Breyer during the Supreme Court’s 1999-2000 term. Born in Washington, D.C., she grew up in Miami and graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

After Jackson was elevated to the appeals court in 2021, she was part of a three-judge panel that heard former President Donald Trump’s challenge to a congressional subpoena for White House records related to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. The panel ruled that Congress could see the documents. The Supreme Court this month affirmed that outcome.

D.C. insiders say Biden had a shortlist of candidates by Inauguration Day 2021, just in case a Supreme Court justice retired. “Every Black woman under the age of 50 is under consideration,” one person whose name is supposed to be on the shortlist told New York Magazine in December 2021, as reported by Jezebel.

Other women Biden may appoint, according to Politico, Vox and CNN, include:

  • Leondra Kruger, 45, who held several high-ranking posts at the Department of Justice such as as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel and as an official in the solicitor general’s office.
  • Julianna Michelle Childs, who has spent the 10 years as a President Barack Obama-appointed district court judge in South Carolina
  • Leslie Abrams Gardner, a federal district court judge in Georgia appointed to the bench by Obama in 2014.
  • Sherrilyn Ifill, a civil rights attorney who recently announced plans to step down from her role as president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
  • Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright, a judge on Minnesota’s federal district court whose consideration would likely please Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
  • Eunice Lee, a former New York public defender nominated by Biden to the Second Circuit as recommended by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
  • Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, Chicago public defender’s office alumna appointed by Biden to the Seventh Circuit as recommended by Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin of Illinois.

People debated the need for a Black female justice on Twitter.

Some said the gender or race of the next justice is not as important as his or her past judgments.

“‘Black woman’ is not a specific enough demand. The white establishment responded to demands for a Black replacement for Thurgood Marshall by installing Clarence Thomas,” tweeted activist Bree Newsome.

She added, “If we’re not precise in our language & political demands beyond ‘someone who LOOKS like us’, they will absolutely scour the earth for the most conservative, white-adjacent Black woman they can find, celebrate themselves for being bipartisan & tell us we can stop protesting now.”

Historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, an associate professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, was infavor of a Black woman justice. “Yes. Please *do* nominate the first black female Supreme Court Justice. But don’t give us any ole black female justice. Give us a @Sifill_LDF or a Letitia James (@NewYorkStateAG). But please, oh please, don’t give us a Genece Brinkley (Google her).

ADOS co-founder Yvette Carnell said the appointment of a Black female justice would be a distraction from the still-unfulfilled promises Biden made to Black America.

“If Biden appoints an #ADOS woman to the Supreme Court, these Negroes will forget all about an agenda. They’ll reset, not understanding that we should’ve had an #ADOS woman on SCOTUS decades ago. 2022, if it happens now, is way late,” Carnell tweeted.

Congresswoman Cori Bush Tweeted, “It is past time for a Black woman to be named to the Supreme Court.”

But others said that if Biden nominated Jackson, it would be a symbolic move.

“The way yall token symbolism produces 0 results for Black Americans– Ima pass,” tweeted miz justice (@msjustice2).

“I would love to see a Black woman judge on the Supreme Court. However… There are Black judges committed to justice, and others committed to upholding white supremacy. If the past two years haven’t woken us up to putting all our eggs in the optics basket, nothing will,” tweeted journalist Torraine Walker, founder of Context Media Group.

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Photo: Ketanji Brown testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations, April 28, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP, File)