Calls grow for first Black woman Supreme Court justice as Breyer retires

(l-r) Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Judge Michelle Childs, and Judge Leondra Kruger

Advocates are calling on President Joe Biden to stick to his vow to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court as Justice Stephen Breyer prepares to retire, potentially paving the way for the first-ever Black woman Supreme Court justice. 

Breyer, 83, is the oldest justice currently serving on the Supreme Court and one of three liberal justices. Only two Black justices, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, have served on the Supreme Court. 

“I’ve committed that if I’m elected president that if I have an opportunity to appoint someone to the courts, I will appoint the first Black woman to the court,” then-candidate Biden said at a presidential debate in 2020. “It’s required that they have representation now. It’s long overdue.”

Biden doubled down on that pledge at a White House briefing after Breyer’s announcement with a statement that mirrored his 2020 promise. “I made that commitment during the campaign for president, and I will keep that commitment,” he said.

It’s past time for Biden to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court and help ensure she has a fair vetting and confirmation process, said Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights of America, a political action committee dedicated to getting more Black women elected to public office at the local and national levels.

“Our country is built on representation. And so, when there is zero representation, that hurts America [and] creates a void for the constituency that doesn’t have a voice,” Carr said.

But most Americans (76%) want Biden to consider “all possible nominees” for the vacancy on the Supreme Court, according to an ABC News/ Ipsos poll conducted after Breyer’s announcement. Less than a quarter (23%) want Biden to automatically follow through on his commitment to name a Black woman to the Supreme Court, according to the poll.

That perspective changes significantly with the demographic. A Higher Heights poll shows that 86% of Black women voters say Biden should prioritize nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court when a seat is available. “We need to have leadership in place—both elected and appointed—to be able to build an economically thriving, educated, healthy and safe community for Black women and our communities,” Carr said.

Glynda Carr
Courtesy of Higher Heights

Higher Heights advocates for normalizing Black woman leadership and says getting a Black woman named to the Supreme Court has been years in the making, Carr said. Fifty years ago last week Shirley Chisolm became the first Black woman to announce her candidacy for the U.S. presidency. 

“Certainly, 50 years from now she believed that America could be receptive to leadership that looked like her,” Carr said. “We certainly stand on that legacy.”

Black women floated as possible replacements for Breyer include Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, whom Biden appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; California Supreme Court Judge Leondra Kruger; and Judge Michelle Childs, whom Biden appointed to the D.C. Circuit. 

Acknowledging the uncertain road to confirmation that would follow a Black woman’s nomination, Carr called on lawmakers to form coalitions and negotiate to ensure a fair process. “We are going to call out any indication of an intersection of racism or sexism in this nomination process,” she said. 

Higher Heights isn’t solely focused on supporting and training Black women running for office; it is also dedicated to empowering Black women voters to communicate with local elected officials and resist misinformation about candidates and political issues. 

The PAC has a strong track record of endorsing Black candidates including Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones. Carr describes Higher Heights as the “political home for Black women.”