Joe Biden was in serious trouble. By the time of the Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina during the 2020 election cycle, analysts expected his campaign to lose the race. To keep his campaign afloat, Biden needed a key endorsement from House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Clyburn wanted something in return: a promise to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court.
This January, after Stephen Breyer, one of the three liberal justices on the Court, announced his retirement after more than 27 years, all eyes were on Biden. Would he stick with his pledge to Clyburn? Thankfully, he did.
“The person I will nominate will be somebody with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity,” Biden said. “And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”
Unfortunately, Biden’s opponents were quick to denounce his commitment. Namely, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined multiple Republicans in calling Biden’s pledge “offensive.”
“The fact that he's willing to make a promise at the outset, that it must be a Black woman, I gotta say that's offensive. You know, you know Black women are what, 6% of the US population?” Cruz said in his podcast. “He's saying to 94% of Americans, ‘I don't give a damn about you, you are ineligible.’”
These critics ignore the historical precedent of considering the backgrounds and demographic factors of judicial nominees, both at a local and national level. In 1981, President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor, and in 2020 President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett. Both presidents had noted demographic factors when promising to appoint a woman to the court.
This precedent ties to democratic ideals, as considering gender, racial, and ethnic factors will only legitimize the court. The court’s decisions will impact millions of Americans and future generations; for these decisions to represent America, the Supreme Court must be reflective of America. The different perspectives that Biden’s nominee will provide will contribute to a more accurate representation of the American people.
More importantly, by appointing a Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Biden will be addressing the fact that White men have dominated the court for decades through a discriminatory system and that this aforementioned system must be dismantled. The lack of representation for both BIPOC and women on the court stems from decades of discrimination with lasting impacts. In its nearly 250 years of history, America has only had two Black justices on the court. Today, women make up more than 50% of America’s population, but only five have served on the court.
Biden’s opponents are making an effort to ignore both the lawful and de-facto obstacles that gave White men an advantage in the legal field. They argue that Biden is playing “identity politics,” and by trying to diversify the court, he’s being racist towards other, more privileged groups. In reality, previously oppressed groups that were excluded from the legal sphere can now offer their insight for critical SCOTUS rulings. Rulings that affect women and people of color should be decided by those who share their experiences.
This backlash sheds light on the perpetual struggle in America to rectify systemic racism and what that means on a national level. Despite two years of severe racial reckoning, the conversations about equity in America are still not where they are supposed to be.