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Black women face obstacles to public office despite Biden's Supreme Court nomination vow

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Following through on a presidential campaign promise, President Joe Biden pledged to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court after Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his retirement Thursday.

“The person I will nominate will be someone of extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court,” the president said Thursday at the White House. “It's long overdue in my view.”

As Biden implied, such a nomination points to the dearth of Black women serving in public office.

And not just on the Supreme Court.

There are no Black women serving in the Senate after Kamala Harris' ascension to vice president. The USA has never elected a Black woman as governor – or president. As Black women transform their organizing capabilities into political power, that could change this year.

"We are sitting in a point in history in 2022, that on Dec. 31, we could see that we have elected a cohort of Black women governors with an 's,' a cohort of Black women U.S. senators with an 's' and seeing a Black woman seated at the bench," said Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights, an organization that helps elect Black women and mobilizes Black female voters.

'Long overdue': Biden reiterates vow to name first Black woman to Supreme Court

Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominee to be U.S. circuit judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing April 28, 2021, in Washington.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominee to be U.S. circuit judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing April 28, 2021, in Washington.

History in the making at the Supreme Court

On the list of Black women Biden could choose are D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Associate Justice Leondra Kruger and U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs of South Carolina.

Jackson is a top candidate, but House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., backs Childs and said he would have discussions with the White House.

"She has the experience that is needed, and she has the temperament that's required," the South Carolina Democrat told NBC's Craig Melvin on Friday.

If Biden’s nominee is confirmed, the Supreme Court would have two Black justices and four female justices serving at the same time – another historic moment.

Biden’s decision to nominate a Black woman was met with warm support from Democrats, including the Congressional Black Caucus.

“As a longtime advocate for Diversity and Inclusion at the highest levels of leadership in our nation, I am looking forward to the President’s appointment of a highly-qualified and experienced jurist to our nation’s highest court,” Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, said in a statement. “I will continue to push in my capacity as a Member of Congress and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus to ensure that the President upholds his promise to the American people and that the Senate confirms a Black woman to the Supreme Court without any unnecessary delay.”

Civic engagement leaders welcomed Biden's pledge, citing Black women's experiences.

"Black women uniquely know the history of the importance of the Supreme Court from Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade and a 2022 battle around voting rights and reproductive justice,” said Carr of Higher Heights.

The president promised Thursday to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court “before the end of February.”

ICYMI: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to step down, giving Biden a chance to make his mark

By fulfilling this promise, Biden is appealing to a voting bloc that is crucial to Democrats in the midterm elections.

Black women have criticized political leaders for not taking their organizing power seriously or investing financially in electing more Black women leaders.

Black women are the Democrats' most loyal voting bloc. They helped elect Biden as president and give Democrats control of the Senate during the 2020 presidential election. Among Black women voters, 93% voted for Biden, according to an analysis of the election by Fox News.

Related: Lack of party support and money, plus racism and sexism, mean Black women often lose statewide elections

2021 Ripple of Hope award recipient Stacey Abrams speaks at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award Gala at New York Hilton Midtown on Dec. 9.
2021 Ripple of Hope award recipient Stacey Abrams speaks at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award Gala at New York Hilton Midtown on Dec. 9.

Could 2022 be the year a Black woman is elected as governor?

No state has elected a Black woman as governor, but that could change after the midterm elections in November are decided.

At least five Black women – all Democrats – have announced their gubernatorial candidacies in 2022: Stacey Abrams in Georgia (Abrams narrowly lost her gubernatorial race in 2018 to Republican Brian Kemp); South Carolina state Sen. Mia McLeod; former Oklahoma state Sen. Connie Johnson; Harvard professor Danielle Allen of Massachusetts; and activist and business owner Deidre DeJear of Iowa.

Educator Deirdre Gilbert of Texas announced she was running as a Democrat for governor but switched to an independent candidacy.

"I would frankly say this has been 50 years in the making. This is the 50th anniversary of Shirley Chisholm announcing her presidency on Jan. 25, 1972," Carr said.

Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and the first African American and the first woman to be a major party candidate for U.S. president.

It's not just SCOTUS. There's the federal appeals court, too

Beyond the Supreme Court, Biden has nominated eight Black women to the U.S. appeals courts – often a steppingstone to the Supreme Court.

Biden selected Jackson for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and she was confirmed by the Senate last June.

More: Biden poised to double the number of Black women appeals court judges

During a commencement speech in December, Biden bragged he had appointed more Black women to the federal bench and the circuit courts bench “than any administration in American history. The previous record was three Black women in eight years.”

Nine Black women have been appointed to the court of appeals by previous presidents, according to the Brookings Institution.

"This is a big deal," said Nadia Brown, a political scientist at Georgetown University, about Biden nominating more Black woman to the lower courts. "This is a playbook that we now acknowledge out of (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell. His real focus, while Trump was doing all the craziness, was staying focused on getting Republican nominees appointed to the court. And Biden is doing the same."

Brown called it a "long-term game."

By nominating more Black women, Brown said, Biden "will hopefully influence some of the things that will come before the Supreme Court, that will ultimately reify the law of the land – but also is raising up a cadre of folks who can be Supreme Court justices in their own right."

Kamala Harris left the Senate to become vice president. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun served a single term.
Kamala Harris left the Senate to become vice president. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun served a single term.

There are no Black women in the Senate

Only two Black women have been elected to the Senate. Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun was the first Black woman elected to the Senate, in 1992. She served a single term from 1993-99.

Harris was the second Black woman senator; she represented California in the Senate from 2017-21. Now that Harris is vice president, there are no Black women serving in the Senate.

Of the 13 Black women who ran for Senate last year, only one became a major party’s nominee: Marquita Bradshaw was the Democratic Party’s nominee for Tennessee's Senate seat, according to a report from Higher Heights. Bradshaw lost to Republican Bill Hagerty.

More: Lack of party support and money, plus racism and sexism, mean Black women often lose statewide elections

Black women aren't giving up this midterm cycle.

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., is running for the Senate seat held by Republican Marco Rubio.

In North Carolina, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Richard Burr and could become the Democratic nominee.

Brown said Black women will continue to run for office because of their tenacity.

"To say that all of this will happen because of the role model effects of Kamala Harris or the role model effects of whoever the Supreme Court Justice will be, I think, is kind of shortsighted," Brown said. "This has been a ground movement and ground game for decades."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Despite Biden's court vow, Black women face political obstacles