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From the Anita Hill debacle to a historic Supreme Court nomination, Biden's unusual journey to champion of Black women

·Senior Writer
·3 min read
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Joe Biden has long been criticized for his handling of Anita Hill's testimony during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Hill, a young Black law professor, testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her when she worked for him at the federal Department of Education. Hill has said her treatment by Biden and other members of the all-male committee was unfair and condescending. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden said he was sorry for the way she had been treated by the panel, and called her to express his regret. (She later said the call left her deeply unsatisfied.)

Now, one year into his presidency, Biden is being credited for promoting Black women, both in his administration and in the federal judiciary.

Split-frame of Joe Biden and Anita Hill in 1991.
Then-Sen. Joe Biden and Anita Hill during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas in 1991. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

Biden made history by nominating the first Black woman and first Asian American to a major political party's ticket when he chose Kamala Harris to be his running mate. (Harris then became the first woman, African American and Asian American to be elected vice president.)

Since taking office, Biden has nominated 16 people to federal appeals courts. Eight of his appointees have been Black women — as many as all previous presidents combined. Five have been confirmed, and three more nominations are pending before the Senate. If the remaining three are confirmed, Biden would have doubled the total number of Black women to ever serve on federal appeals courts.

And on Wednesday, the White House said he will stand by his campaign promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court after multiple news outlets reported that 83-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer will retire at the end of the current term.

Biden reaffirmed that commitment at the White House on Thursday, saying he'd nominate a Black woman to replace Breyer.

"The person I nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court," Biden said. "It's long overdue, in my view. I made that commitment during the campaign for president, and I will keep that commitment."

President Biden stands at a lectern; Justice Stephen Breyer stands in the background.
Retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer listens as President Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden's push to install Black women on the federal bench was part of that promise, expanding his pool of likely candidates for the high court.

Christopher Kang, a co-founder of Demand Justice, a progressive group that advocates for diverse judicial appointments, said it demonstrates Biden’s “commitment to ensuring that the courts look and represent our country as a whole."

“He has a strong pool to select a candidate from," NAACP president Derrick Johnson told ABC News Wednesday. "This is an historic opportunity to appoint someone with a strong record on civil and human rights.”

It comes at a critical time in Biden's presidency, following last week's defeat of the voting rights bill. While Biden called for a change in the Senate's filibuster rule to get it to pass, some Black activists blamed him and Harris for a lack of urgency on voting rights.

And a recent Quinnipiac poll found that Biden’s approval among Black voters has fallen to 57 percent, down from 78 percent a year ago.

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