Closing The Gap

Biden pledged to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court—meet 5 who could be up for the job

Biden to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court
Biden to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court

During a press conference in Delaware in June 2020, President Joe Biden said that he hoped to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court if the opportunity presented itself. Now, in wake of the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, Biden intends on fulfilling his pledge.

"We are putting together a list of a group of African American women who are qualified and have the experience to be in the court," he said during the 2020 conference. "I am not going to release that until we go further down the line of vetting them."

Biden has already made progress in diversifying appellate courts. So far, he has nominated eight Black women to the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals; five of them have been confirmed.

Though the list of women to take Breyer's seat has yet to be confirmed, there are some rumored frontrunners. According to NBC News, "two leading contenders are said to be federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger."

From recent Court of Appeals nominees to the youngest person to be appointed to the California Supreme Court, meet five Black women who Biden is said to be considering to potentially fill Breyer's seat.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, is sworn in to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 28, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Ketanji Brown Jackson is a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and frontrunner for Breyer's seat. She's rumored to be a top prospect for Biden, as he promoted her to her current position just last year. Before this, the DC native was district judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia from 2013 to 2021.

While the House impeachment inquiry was underway, Jackson presided over the attempt by the Trump Justice Department to prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying to Congress. According to the National Law Journal, Jackson stated in a 120-page opinion that "compulsory appearance by dint of a subpoena is a legal construct, not a political one, and per the Constitution, no one is above the law."

California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger

California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger is seen in an undated photo.
U.S. Supreme Court of California | via Reuters

At just 38 years old, Judge Leondra Kruger, another frontrunner, became the youngest appointee to the California Supreme Court in 2014, after being nominated by then-governor Jerry Brown. Her previous experience includes serving as acting deputy solicitor general during the Obama administration, arguing 12 cases before the Supreme Court for the government.

Kruger has been praised for her unpredictability and fair judging, despite having "shaped a liberal revival on the court", according to the Vetting Room, alongside Governor Brown's other appointees, Goodwin Liu, Tino Cuellar and Joshua Groban. In addition to acclaim from her colleagues, in 2013 and 2014, Kruger received the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service, the Department of Justice's highest award for employee performance.

Judge J. Michelle Childs

Judge Julianna Michelle Childs is currently the U.S. federal judge for the District of South Carolina, a role she's held for over 10 years. The University of South Carolina law school alumna was also recently nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Biden last month. Previously, Childs spent nine years at Nexsen Pruet's Columbia office, and became the firm's first Black partner.

Childs' work throughout her career has earned her the support of South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, who believes she is an "ideal candidate" for the anticipated Supreme Court vacancy, according to the Post and Courier.

In a February 2021 interview, Clyburn praised Child's distinguished educational background, as most of the Supreme Court justices attended Ivy League institutions.

"I hear President Biden talk about being a public college graduate as opposed to an Ivy Leaguer," Clyburn told the Post and Courier. "That has some substance with him, and I would hope that would also have substance for those people who are doing the vetting and recommending as to who he ought to consider for the Supreme Court."

Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi

Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, U.S. circuit judge for the seventh circuit nominee for U.S. President Joe Biden, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
Tom Williams | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Judge Candace Jackson Akiwumi is the second Black woman judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Akiwumi was nominated for the role by President Biden in April of last year. 

Akiwumi started her legal career clerking for Clinton appointees and then spent more than a decade as an Illinois federal public defender. The Princeton and Yale-educated judge garnered the support of both Democrats and Republicans on June 24, 2021, when she was confirmed for the 7th Circuit. U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued this statement shortly following her U.S. Court of Appeals confirmation:

"Ms. Jackson-Akiwumi has devoted her life to defending the rule of law, including spending ten years as a federal public defender — representing hundreds of indigent clients at every stage of the legal process and providing them with their constitutional right to counsel. With her qualifications, temperament, and range of experience, Ms. Jackson-Akiwumi will be an outstanding addition to the Seventh Circuit bench."

Judge Eunice Lee

Eunice C. Lee, nominee to be U.S. circuit judge for the Second Circuit, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for judicial nominees in Hart Building on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Judge Eunice Lee, also a Yale graduate, is a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, also nominated by President Biden last year. Lee is the second Black woman to ever serve on the 2nd Circuit and the only judge on the circuit with experience as a public defender. With 21 years of experience, she is the longest-serving public defender to ever serve as a judge on a U.S. Court of Appeals.

Lee represented over 300 indigent clients during her career as a public defender. She was also an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law, teaching the Criminal Appellate Defender Clinic, a program she co-created to allow students to assist clients of the Office of the Appellate Defender.

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