President Joe Biden on Friday nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman in US history to serve on the Supreme Court.
“I’m proud to announce that I am nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court,” Biden said, confirming media reports. “She is one of our nation’s brightest legal minds and will be an exceptional Justice.”
Jackson, 51, was appointed to the federal bench in 2013, and was backed by three Republican senators last year when she was elevated to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, seen as a staging ground for aspiring Supreme Court justices.
With one liberal justice replacing another the announcement, reported by CNN and NBC, will not reshape the ideological make-up of the court — but it is a huge moment for Biden personally and politically.
White House officials hope it will provide a few days of positive news coverage ahead of the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.
The pick presents an opportunity for the administration to pivot from a spate of bad news in recent months, with Biden’s domestic agenda stalled amid runaway inflation and plummeting poll numbers.
The announcement is also another chance for Biden to show the Black voters who rescued his floundering 2020 primary campaign that he can deliver for them following the recent defeat of voting rights legislation.
“Ketanji Brown Jackson is an intellectual heavyweight and highly regarded jurist who has dedicated her life and career to the service of others,” said Mondaire Jones, one of the first Black openly gay congressmen.
Black Americans are among Biden’s strongest supporters, with two-thirds approving of his job performance, according to a CBS poll released last week.
But his popularity among the key demographic — 85 percent at the start of his term — declined over the months following his inauguration and he has not recovered the lost ground.
After Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, Biden narrowed his preferred candidates to a handful of top legal figures before settling on Jackson, including J. Michelle Childs, a federal judge in South Carolina, and Leandra Kruger, who sits on the California Supreme Court.
In his first year in office, Biden nominated 62 women to the federal judiciary, including 24 Black women. But there are still only a few dozen active Black female judges on the federal bench out of almost 800 total.
The president had promised during his successful 2020 White House run to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in US history.
Jackson will now go through weeks of hearings and meetings with senators before her nomination comes to the floor, likely in early April.
Republicans, who cannot block a Supreme Court nomination as long as all 50 Senate Democrats stick together, have been sounding a discordant note in their public statements.
Senator Roger Wicker described Biden’s vow to only consider Black women for the vacancy “affirmative action” while Senator Susan Collins said making the pledge before the 2020 election was “clumsy” and risked further politicizing perceptions of the court.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham welcomed the push for more diversity, saying “it’s about time” the bench looked more like America.
But the party has shown little appetite in any case for a fight, which they fear could backfire, and are trying to keep the focus on kitchen table issues such as spiraling fuel and food costs.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued that one liberal jurist replacing another isn’t a big deal but presidential hopeful Ted Cruz said it was “offensive” for Biden to say he would consider only Black women when they constitute about six percent of the population.
“I want to make sure that the president nominates an exceptional candidate, an exceptional individual, and I would be honored to be able to support an exceptional African American woman,” Alaska Senator Murkowski told CNN earlier this month.
The announcement also represents an interesting milestone that has nothing to do with race or politics.
Biden presided over Breyer’s confirmation to the Supreme Court as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1994, and has now named Breyer’s replacement. This has never happened before in US history.