A group of Black women in Congress led by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday, applauding his pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court and urging him to choose someone with a strong civil rights record.
“The nomination of a Black woman is not mere symbolism; it is an essential step for our country’s promise of justice for all,” the group wrote. “It is therefore of utmost importance that the Administration appoints a Black woman with a strong track record of advancing civil and constitutionally protected rights and whose work has shown dedication to affirming the rights of our country’s most marginalized communities.”
As the lawmakers pointed out, there are zero Black women in the Senate, where the nominee will be considered. If Biden holds to his promise and a Black woman is confirmed by the chamber, she will be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She would also be the sixth woman to serve as a justice in the court’s history.
“History shows that the appointment of a Black justice with a strong record of affirming constitutional rights is crucial in confronting this country’s racial, civil rights, and democratic crises,” the lawmakers wrote. “As we approach this historic appointment to the Supreme Court, during a time of similarly long standing and unprecedented crises, the American people will be well served with the appointment of a Black woman to the bench who has an equally powerful record of advancing civil rights.”
The lawmakers cited cases that have been transformative for civil rights, like Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. They also cited Shelley v. Kraemer, in which justices ruled that it is unconstitutional to prevent someone from owning property in certain covenants based on their race.
Black scholars have also spoken out about this issue, pointing out that representation has its limits if the person who is nominated isn’t willing to fight for the people that they represent. Progressive lawmakers have called for a nominee who is committed to advancing issues of justice.
“Of course, there is just an absolute abundance of legal genius, and Black women legal genius in this country, so I also think we need to make sure that the nominee is also advancing the administration’s values,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) recently told The Independent. “That they’re pro-labor, that they will be a champion for voting rights and for protection of people’s ability to vote and also organize their workplace, among many other things.”
Progressives have been wary of some of Biden’s picks so far, citing their previous rulings on issues like climate, labor and the criminal legal system.
Labor groups have raised concerns about one of Biden’s leading picks, Judge J. Michelle Childs, because she has a history as a management-side lawyer, working on behalf of employers who were facing allegations of racism or union busting. As a district court judge, Childs has ruled against incarcerated people who alleged that they were facing abusive conditions; some of those rulings were so punitive that they were eventually overturned.
Instead, progressive advocates have said that someone like Appeals Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson would be a strong choice; as Truthout previously reported, if appointed, she would be the only Supreme Court justice to have represented criminal defendants since Thurgood Marshall, who retired from the Court in 1991.