Sen. Durbin Defends Biden’s Promise to Nominate Black Woman to SCOTUS

  • President Joe Biden has pledged to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. 
  • Critics have slammed this plan as discrimination and “affirmative action.”
  • Sen. Dick Durbin said he hopes those “critical of the president’s selection aren’t doing it for personal reasons.”  

Senate Majority Whip and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin on Sunday defended President Joe Biden’s pledge to choose a Black woman to be his nominee to the Supreme Court. 

“I would just say the bottom line is this in terms of African American women: If they have achieved the level of success in practice of law, in jurisprudence, they’ve done it against great odds. They’re extraordinary people,” the Illinois senator said Sunday during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “Usually the first of anything in the United States turns out to be extraordinary in their background and the same is true there.”

Biden’s promise during the 2020 presidential campaign has come under intense pressure and scrutiny after Justice Stephen Breyer, a member of the court’s liberal wing, announced last week he is retiring.

All of the potential picks on Biden’s reported shortlist are Black women

Following the news of Breyer’s planned retirement, Democrats immediately called on Biden to keep his promise

“You promised us a Black woman on the Supreme Court. Let’s see it happen,” Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York tweeted.

Some Republicans and conservatives immediately decried Biden’s plan, comparing it to affirmative action, an approach used in education, employment, and voting rights, among other areas, that considers race and/or gender as a key factor to counter the legacy of policies that openly discriminated against minorities or women.  

Sen. Roger Wicker said Biden’s Supreme Court pick will be a “beneficiary” of affirmative action. And former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted it “would be nice if Pres Biden chose a Supreme Court nominee who was best qualified without a race/gender litmus test.” 

A Fox News panel slammed Biden’s campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman as discrimination. Jonathan Turley, a Fox News contributor and constitutional-law professor at George Washington University, compared the president’s promise to “race preferences in college admissions.” 

In response to these comments, Durbin said on Sunday that Biden’s nominee would be an “extraordinary” addition to the court. 

“They’re all going to face the same close scrutiny,” he said of a potential nominee. “This is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, and I just hope that those who are critical of the president’s selection aren’t doing it for personal reasons.” 

Ketanji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger, and J. Michelle Childs

Possible frontrunners for Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, DC Circuit Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and federal court judge J. Michelle Childs are pictured.

Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images; S. Todd Rogers/AP; Charles Dharapak/AP

Durbin also pointed out that “this is not the first time that a president has signaled what they’re looking for in a nominee.”

“I’d remind them to take a look back at history and recall that it was Ronald Reagan who announced that he was going to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court, and he did, Sandra Day O’Connor. And it was Donald Trump who announced he was going to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a woman nominee as well,” the senator said. 

The White House also responded to Wicker’s comment, saying in a statement to The Mississippi Free Press that President Biden’s promise is “in line with the best traditions of both parties and our nation,” noting the pledge from Reagan and Biden to nominate women and its historic nature. 

The statement also highlighted Republican lawmakers praising barrier-breaking nominees. For instance, when Trump promised to place a woman, ultimately Justice Amy Coney Barrett, on the Supreme Court, Wicker backed Barrett, the statement noted. 

“Senator Wicker said, ‘I have five granddaughters, the oldest is 10. I think Justice Amy Coney Barrett will prove to be an inspiration to these five granddaughters and to my grown daughters.’ We hope Senator Wicker will give President Biden’s nominee the same consideration,” The White House said. 

A day after Breyer’s announcement, Biden said he will nominate “someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”

He added: “It’s long overdue, in my view. I made that commitment during the campaign for President, and I will keep that commitment.”

Republican Senator Susan Collins, who said Sunday she is open to whomever Biden nominated but criticized the president’s handling of the vacancy

“I would welcome the appointment of a Black female to the court,” Collins said  during an appearance on ABC News’s “This Week,” but called his approach “clumsy at best.” 

She said Biden’s promise differed from pledges of his predecessors because it came while he was a candidate for president, adding “to the further perception that the court is a political institution like congress when it is not supposed to be.” 

Durbin on Sunday said he’s spoken to Collins and is “hopeful” that the nominee will have bipartisan support. 

“I’m reaching out to the Republicans and saying the nominee will be available for you to get to know them,” he added.

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