Battle lines already drawn over President Biden’s Supreme Court nomination

EXCLUSIVE: The process to install the nation's first Black woman Supreme Court justice is shaping out to be a contest of competing interests

The process is underway for the first Black woman Supreme Court justice to replace outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer – and it’s already shaping out to be a battle of competing interests.  

House Majority Whip, U.S. Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, told theGrio that he has seen the “White House list” of “seven” potential picks for the Supreme Court and the judge he is supporting, J. Michelle Childs, is on that list. 

Clyburn said he offered up Childs’ name to President Biden before Breyer’s announced retirement 13 months ago.

”I am for her mainly because I know her to be the kind of judge that this president is looking for. He’s made it very clear that he would like to see people from backgrounds and experiences that the vast majority of the American people have had,” Clyburn told theGrio exclusively.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden vowed that he would “keep his commitment” to nominate the nation’s first Black woman to the high court.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the coming retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 27, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“That person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room during televised remarks at White House with Justice Bryer to officially announce his retirement. “It’s long overdue in my view, I made that commitment during the campaign for president and I will keep that commitment.”

President Biden also announced that Vice President Kamala Harris is assisting him in the search for the historic nominee. The president called Harris an “exceptional lawyer, former attorney general of the state of California, former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

The president is expected to announce his pick by the end of February, which is Black History Month, after meeting with the short list of candidates. 

The thorough process will involve consultations from Black legal groups and others about their thoughts on who should be on President Biden’s shortlist of potential nominees. 

The short list of names being floated in the media is pedigreed and impressive, which include Clyburn’s pick, J. Michelle Childs, judges Ketanji Brown Jackson, Leondra Krugar, Wilhelminia “Mimi” Wright, Eunice Lee, Candace Jackson Akiwumi and Sherrilyn Ifill, who has never served as a judge but is a seasoned lawyer who is stepping down as director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.  

In the selection process for justices, the hope is that the nominee can serve for decades – making age a possible factor. The current list of top runners for the post happen to be in their 40’s and 50’s. One of the front runners for the bench, Ketanji Brown Jackson, is 51. The current circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia happens to also be the former law clerk for the retiring Justice Breyer.

Left to right: Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sherrilyn Ifill. (Photo: Getty Images)

While U.S. Rep. Clyburn is making his early bid for his preferred nominee, others pushing for their favorite candidate are already in the works.

“Congressman Clyburn has the most influence,” said Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors Leon Russell

Clyburn is considered to be a king maker in Washington as his support for Biden just before the South Carolina presidential primary put him over the top to secure the state’s influential and coveted Black vote. Clyburn is said to have Biden’s ear and their relationship was evident when the president attended and delivered remarks at Clyburn’s commencement ceremony last month at South Carolina State University in honor of the highest-ranking African American lawmaker on the Hill. 

Elaborating on why he feels Childs is the best candidate for the high court over others, Clyburn admittedly told theGrio, “I’m getting a little miffed at people that say you ain’t going to get considered unless you serve on the D.C. circuit or went to an Ivy League school.

“Childs has the background and experience that the vast majority of American people have had. You can’t be better prepared educationally than she is and work experience. So this is the kind of person that I think Joe Biden identifies with and will feel comfortable with sitting on the Supreme Court,” Clyburn.

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Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) speaks during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on May 19, 2021 in Washington DC. (Photo by Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)

When it comes to Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a source close to the matter told theGrio that there is a concern that she has never been confirmed by the United States Senate and a confirmation for her could be problematic in a 50-50 split chamber.

Ifill is said to have impressed the president and White House officials during meetings on issues of civil rights from policing to voting rights.

It’s too soon to know who will be tapped as Biden’s historic pick for the Supreme Court, however, it’s already turning out to be a closely watched nomination process.

As Biden said during his Thursday remarks, “I’ve made no decision except one: The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who infamously blocked then President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, had an immediate response to President Biden’s announcement.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 04: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following a Senate Republican Policy Luncheon on Capitol Hill on January 04, 2022 in Washington, DC. During the news conference McConnell spoke on Senate Democrats’ push for voting rights legislation. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“The President must not outsource this important decision to the radical left. The American people deserve a nominee with demonstrated reverence for the written text of our laws and our Constitution,” said McConnell.

Responding to early attacks on President Biden’s nomination, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said any Republicans who label President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee as “radical” before she is even named has “just obliterated their own credibility.” 

“Our intention is to not play games,” she said.

CNN legal analyst and author of Just Pursuit, Laura Coates, told theGrio that this moment “is not about diversity for diversity’s sake.”

“It’s about the inherent and undeniable value of having our laws evaluated through the prism of a qualified Black woman revered in her field for her intellect, integrity and impartiality,” she said. “The choices before Biden are an embarrassment of riches, but it’s frankly an embarrassment that our intellectual wealth was not fully recognized by a president until now.”

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