Biden set to appoint first Black woman Supreme Court justice


After Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, President Joe Biden plans on announcing the nominee to fill Breyer’s seat before the end of the month. Photo credit: “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Alexa Grayson, news correspondent

On Jan. 27, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement. As news spread, President Joe Biden reaffirmed his campaign commitment to appoint the first Black woman Supreme Court justice.

Biden plans on announcing the nominee to fill Breyer’s seat before the end of February.

Breyer served 28 years on the Supreme Court. He was appointed by former President Bill Clinton in 1994 and has authored rulings focused on protecting abortion rights and opposing the death penalty. 

Northeastern University professor Dan Urman, who is the director of the law and public policy minor, described Breyer as a “pragmatist.” 

“I think a lot of the work he did happened behind the scenes,” Urman said. “But [he was] a very respected, likable person whose legacy of compromise and working with others didn’t fit the era.” 

Luke Albert, a senior at Harvard University who is studying government with a minor in ethnicity, migration and human rights, expressed his thoughts on Breyer and the future of the Supreme court. 

“Justice Breyer has a very pragmatic approach to law,” said Albert. “He [has], by and large … done an incredible job since he was appointed and confirmed a few decades ago … He should be remembered for his service on the court.”

Breyer’s retirement from the court leaves a vacancy that Biden has discretion to fill. Biden made a campaign promise to, if given the opportunity, appoint a Black woman as a Supreme Court justice, and reaffirmed his commitment at the White House. 

“The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court,” Biden said in a statement at the White House on Jan. 27. 

In its long 232-year history, there have only been five female Supreme Court justices, including only one woman of color who is Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court. 

“I thought it was good that President Biden decided to commit to it so early on, even prior to being elected,” Albert said. “I know that he’s thinking about candidates with extraordinary legal expertise and experience, but also, that will bring a really necessary judgment and perspective to the Supreme Court.”

Possible candidates include Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger, J. Michelle Childs, Sherrilyn Ifill, Melissa Murray, Holly A. Thomas, Eunice Lee, Candance Jackson-Akiwumi and Wilhelmina Wright, according to an AP News report. 

“The front runners are Kentaji Brown Jackson and Leondra Kruger, followed by Michelle Childs from South Carolina,” said Urman. “Jackson and Kruger are slightly more likely because they have the kind of credentials that have been much more common in recent years on the Supreme Court, which is Ivy League law school, Supreme Court clerkship… There are currently six justices on the court who themselves clerked for the Supreme Court.” 

Jackson is a justice for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, appointed by Biden. Jackson had to undergo a Senate confirmation to be appointed to the position and was confirmed to the appeals court by 53-44 votes. This included all 50 members of the Democratic caucus and three Republican senators, according to the New York Times.

Kruger is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California, who was appointed through an anonymous vote. 

“She’s a consensus builder,” said Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court to the New York Times. 

The Supreme Court is currently arguing many cases, one of which challenges the future of the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade. The current case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, argues over the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law banning all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.  The argument took place on Dec. 1, 2021, and the decision on the case is pending and will be decided this summer. 

If the Mississippi law is upheld, the precedent of the decision would likely overturn Roe v. Wade, which could lead to bans on abortions being implemented in several states across the country, according to CNN Politics.

Urman said that even with Biden replacing Breyer, there will still be six conservative and three liberal judges. All six conservative judges have indicated they would uphold Mississippi’s law, which will impact the fate of Roe v. Wade.

“It will not make a single difference because you’re swapping out a moderate liberal for a moderate liberal, there will be absolutely no difference on the cases,” Urman said. “What could happen though is the symbolism … to have three women, two of color, that could be dissenting, that could have a significant impact.”

Harper Elrod, a first-year undeclared student at Wellesley College, expressed concerns regarding the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. Elrod also argued that there’s a lack of accountability of the court. 

“There is no accountability for those on the Supreme Court because what you can do is you can stand outside with protest signs, and that’s about all you can do,” Elrod said. “We don’t elect supreme court justices, they have no term limits … It’s abysmal the way that they are wielding such power today.”