WASHINGTON – After a meeting at the Oval Office earlier this month with President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and his fellow House Democrats, Rep. James E. Clyburn from South Carolina visited the office of Ms Harris in the West Wing to privately raise a topic that was not addressed in their panel discussion: the Supreme Court.
Mr Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress, wanted to offer Ms Harris the name of potential future justice, according to a Democrat briefed on their conversation. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs would honor Mr Biden’s pledge to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court – and, Mr Clyburn noted, she was also from state South Carolina having political significance for the president.
There may not be a vacancy in the High Court at the moment, but Mr Clyburn and other lawmakers are already maneuvering to defend the candidates and a new approach for a nomination that could come soon. this summer, as some Democrats are hoping Judge Stephen Breyer, who is 82, to retire. With Democrats holding the tiniest majority of majorities in the Senate and the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg still painfully fresh on their minds, these party leaders want to shape Mr. Biden’s nomination, including by taking the party away from the usual Ivy resumes. League.
The precocious jockey illustrates how eager Democratic officials are to leave their mark on Mr Biden’s efforts to elevate historically underrepresented candidates for historic Supreme Court nomination. But it also highlights baffling class and credibility issues within the Democratic Party that have been just below the surface since the days of the Obama administration.
Some Democrats like Mr Clyburn, who have nervously watched Republicans try to repackage themselves as a working class party, believe Mr Biden could send a message about his determination to keep Democrats loyal to their blue collar roots in choosing a candidate like Ms. Childs, who attended public universities.
“One of the things we have to be very, very careful about as Democrats is being painted with this elitist brush,” Clyburn said, adding, “When people talk about diversity, they always look at race. and ethnicity – I look beyond that to the diversity of experiences.
North Carolina Representative GK Butterfield, like Mr. Clyburn, a former member of the Congressional Black Caucus, made a similar point in an email to White House attorney Dana Remus last month listing the criteria caucus favorites for Federal Court appointments. Near the top of the list, Mr Butterfield said, was: “The judge should have diverse experience in several contexts and in several areas, including experiences outside of the law.
Mr Biden’s pledge to nominate the first black woman to court was sort of an unusual campaign pledge: Mr Clyburn pushed him to do so during a debate in Charleston ahead of South Carolina’s pivotal primary Last year. It was a vow even some of the president’s aides resisted, fearing it might look like pimping.
Mr Biden has spoken little in public since his election about his preferences for the court, but as the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has a sort of split personality when it comes to personnel policy. While he is happy to point out his Scranton, Pennsylvania roots, his roots, his public school graduation and his nickname “Middle-Class Joe,” he has long surrounded himself with genre-wielding aides and advisers. of pedigree that he lacks.
And some White House officials are already bracing for what they believe to be unfair right-wing attacks on the black woman they choose, believing that the prospective candidate must have a crisp resume. “It’s going to have to be someone with unchallenged credentials so it doesn’t appear to be an unqualified person,” said a senior Biden official, who spoke of potential court candidates under the guise of anonymity to share his thoughts from inside the West Wing.
Among the potential candidates put forward for a seat on the Supreme Court, Ms Childs has a different track record than the more recent candidates. Unlike eight of the nine current Supreme Court justices, Ms Childs, 54, did not attend an Ivy League college. Her mother worked for Southern Bell in Columbia, SC and Ms. Childs won a scholarship to the University of South Florida. She then graduated from the University of South Carolina Law School and became the first black woman to become a partner in one of the state’s leading law firms. Like a previous generation of jurists, she rose through the ranks in state politics before being appointed to the bench. Ms Childs was a senior official in the South Carolina Department of Labor before being appointed to the state’s workers’ compensation board.
“She’s the kind of person who has the kind of experiences that would make her a good addition to the Supreme Court,” Clyburn said.
Mr Clyburn, whose coveted support helped revive Mr Biden’s enrollment drive ahead of the South Carolina primary last year, has been particularly active on his behalf in what his advisers say are his most important request of the administration. The 80-year-old House Whip defended Ms Childs to Ms Harris; Mrs. Remus; and Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, chairman of the judicial committee.
Bakari Sellers, a Democratic political commentator close to Ms Harris, also introduced members of the Vice President’s inner circle to Ms Childs, who was appointed to the federal bench by Mr Obama in 2010.
“Not just for our party, but also for the judiciary, it is important to have someone who has had experiences,” Sellers said.
What prompted some of these officials to go public with a more aggressive form of advocacy are two developments.
First, they saw items on a shortlist in a column by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post earlier this month, naming two potential successors to Breyer, who, like Ms Childs, are young enough to sit in court for a few decades. The two estates – U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of Washington, DC, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger – both have Ivy League law degrees and important connections. Ms Jackson, 50, was a clerk for Mr Breyer himself and Ms Kruger, 44, was deputy solicitor general to Mr Obama.
There are a handful of other black women in their forties with elite titles who have caught the attention of lawmakers, including some members of the Judiciary Committee. There is Danielle Holley-Walker, Dean of Howard University Law School, and Leslie Abrams Gardner, Federal District Court Judge in Georgia, younger sister of Stacey Abrams.
The question of timing is more important.
There are relatively few black women in federal appellate courts, where presidents often attract their Supreme Court candidates. Very soon, however, there will be another vacancy in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – which can be a stepping stone to the High Court – when Judge Merrick B. Garland resigns to become a prosecutor. general. Ms Childs might be in a better position to advance to the Supreme Court if she were to sit on that appeals court, some of her admirers say.
“There is an immediate vacancy there, so I would argue for his consideration for the DC circuit,” Mr Butterfield, himself a former state Supreme Court justice, said of Ms Childs. “And when and if there is a vacancy in the Supreme Court, it should also be considered for that.
Cheri Beasley, who lost her re-election as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court by 412 votes in November, is another possible candidate for a seat on the court. She also attended a public university and rose through the bench through lower state courts. Still, Ms Beasley has told people she is considering running for the open North Carolina Senate seat next year, according to a Democrat who spoke to her.
When a seat is vacant, several Democrats say they prepare to bring out the tensions of the Obama era, which were covered up by former President Donald Trump.
Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as a number of white Democrats, say they believe the party is too closely tied to the elites and that this perception only gives Republicans political fodder during election season.
“It’s not criticizing the Harvard or the Yales, but I think there are some great lawyers who are really, really smart who come from other places on this earth,” said Senator Jon Tester of Montana, where the Democrats lost everything. three landmark races last year. “And I think we should consider them.”
Vi Lyles, the mayor of Charlotte, said: “Having the broadest perspective of what’s going on in the country makes you a better decision maker and a better leader.”
The lingering frustrations among black leaders, many of whom have attended public schools or historically black institutions, are even more delicate about Mr. Obama’s independent treatment of the Congressional Black Caucus and his administration’s apparent preference for people. nominated with elite titles.
“He was predisposed to Ivy League nominees, I think we can all agree on that,” Mr Butterfield said.
Mr. Sellers was even more brutal. “I love Barack Obama, but there was an Ivy League culture emanating from the White House, and we had to move away from it,” he said.
Frustration with Mr. Obama peaked with his selection of Mr. Garland to the Supreme Court after the death of Judge Antonin Scalia in 2016. Some Congressional Democrats thought the former president could have pressured Republicans and energized Democrats had he chosen a black woman and were furious when he said he was not looking for “a black lesbian from Skokie” .
What Mr. Clyburn will only say indirectly is that Mr. Biden owes not only black voters for his nomination, he is indebted to the African Americans who resurrected his candidacy in South Carolina and those in South which practically cemented his appointment three days later. as it swept the region on Super Tuesday.
Some African-American Democrats believe black Americans will rally around the black woman Mr. Biden names and suspect that Mr. Clyburn is looking for a rationale to elevate his home state and polish his legacy.
Yet few politicians preach more than Mr. Biden about the importance of “dancing with whoever brought you,” as the President often says. And so far Mr Clyburn has been able to install two of his closest allies in the administration, with former Rep. Marcia Fudge being appointed housing secretary and Jaime Harrison hired to lead the Democratic National Committee.
When asked if he could support Ms Childs in the High Court, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, a Republican and the first black Southern Senator elected since Reconstruction, said he was not ready to to commit. But he praised her for having “a very good reputation” and said her appointment “would reflect the positive and powerful progress we have made in the great state of South Carolina.”
Mr. Scott was more blunt, however, when asked if Mr. Biden owed it to black voters in South Carolina, given the role they played in his path to the presidency.
“Jim Clyburn would say so,” he said with a smile.