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What Happens When a Black Woman Gets Nominated to the Supreme Court?

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It's 2022, and a Black woman has never held a seat on the Supreme Court. But with the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, that much-needed representation on the bench is coming closer to reality.  

President Biden made a campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to the US Supreme Court, and soon we'll learn his choice from a plethora of qualified candidates. The League of Women Voters celebrates that, finally, a Black woman will be represented on the Supreme Court. But as we celebrate this momentous occasion, we are disheartened by the early attacks to discredit the nominee before she is even named, suggesting this nominee would be a “radical” or an affirmative action pick.  

President Biden’s promise to diversify the Supreme Court is nothing new. Other Presidents have vowed to make the Supreme Court more diverse in the past. Back in 1980, President Reagan vowed that if elected, he would nominate the first female Supreme Court Justice. And on August 19, 1981, President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor, who was later confirmed by the Senate a month later.

Aside from graduating near the top of her class from Stanford Law School, O’Connor became the first woman to serve as any state majority leader. While at the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor cast the deciding vote for the majority in 360 cases, determining the outcome in several cases. In recognition of her legacy, Justice O’Connor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Obama in 2009. 

Like Reagan's choice to nominate Sandra Day O'Connor, President Biden’s promise to appoint a Supreme Court Justice that is reflective of our diversity in this country should be welcomed, not criticized.  

Yet we know that women, especially Black women like our upcoming nominee, face disproportionate criticism when put in positions of power. Just look at Michelle Obama, who was painted as a radical on the campaign trail, and our current Vice President Kamala Harris, who has faced countless racist and sexist attacks since the beginning of her term. With the burden of being unfairly attacked, Black women have to work harder than their counterparts to be viewed as credible, facing a double punch of racism and sexism that often keeps them from advancing in positions of power.

Particularly in politics, Black women often face a double standard and higher level of scrutiny on their electability than white male candidates. Not to mention, the racial wealth gap when it comes to fundraising, also continues to be a barrier.  Even though Black women tend to vote more than other groups, they are still disproportionately underrepresented in positions of power in politics. Black women are less than five percent of officeholders elected to statewide executive offices, Congress, and state legislatures. On the statewide executive level, Black women account for just nearly two percent of officeholder positions. President Biden's Supreme Court nomination is the next step to right these wrongs.  

President Biden has said that the person he nominates will be someone with “extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity.” We know the President’s choice will undoubtedly come from a pool of extraordinarily talented candidates who will be more than qualified to sit on this bench. We know he has a wide variety of people with diverse and extensive qualifications, on his shortlist for the Supreme Court to choose from.  

We also know that whoever he nominates, President Biden is selecting them both for their qualifications and in a commitment to increase representation in the US Supreme Court. This promise of diversity at the High court is long overdue — the judicial branch, like the other branches of our government, must be more reflective of the America it serves. The Black population represents approximately 12 percent of all people living in the United States while comprising less than ten percent of sitting judges in the federal judiciary. Among active federal judges, only 4.9 percent are Black women, despite that population representing more than seven percent of the US. That is why this nomination matters.  

At the League of Women Voters, we believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy, and Black women have always been part of the solution. It was Black women who played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement and more recently, who did the groundwork to expand voter turnout in states like Georgia. And now, 54 years after the election of Rep. Shirley Chisholm, we have a record turnout of Black women elected in the 117th Congress. With this historic nomination of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, Black women will finally have representation in the High Court. 

The League of Women Voters supports the nomination of a Black woman on the Supreme Court. Nominating a Black woman to the nation’s highest court is overdue, and we commend President Biden for his leadership in embracing a Court that is more representative to our country. This nominee deserves a fair confirmation process, the vicious attacks we’ve already seen on this potential nominee’s character are unproductive and discriminatory. We call for a fair and bipartisan confirmation hearing for this historic moment in our history.  

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