By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
President Joe Biden is in the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee, a decision that should come by the end of February. According to Biden, his nominee “will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”
The Supreme Court is tasked with upholding equal justice for United States citizens; thus, the Court should be representative of the American populace. Historically, however, this was not the case.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 40% of Americans are not white. Yet, all but two Supreme Court Justices are white — Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is one of only two African American Justices ever appointed in U.S. history, both of whom were male.
Biden’s decision to nominate a Black woman is long overdue. It also calls attention to the lack of adequate representation in the federal court system.
“[Biden’s] promise also underscores how much Black women have struggled to become part of a very small pool of elite judges in the nation’s higher federal courts,” New York Times journalists Michael Shear and Charlie Savage said. “Speculation on Wednesday [Jan. 19] focused on a rarefied group of well-credentialed Black women who have elite educations and experience on the bench.”
According to the Supreme Court official archives, the first Black woman to serve as a federal appeals court judge was appointed in 1979. Since then, only seven more Black women were awarded the position, which is essentially a prerequisite for advancing in the federal court system.
This statistic makes evident the extent to which certain demographics are excluded from positions of power, meaning this same data goes underrepresented in the governing bodies meant to represent and serve them.
“It shows that Black women’s voices have not been appreciated, that their perspectives have not been valued, and their voices have not been heard,” Chief Executive of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms Leslie Davis said.
Biden’s decision to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court is reminiscent of his March 2020 declaration that he would select a woman to be his presidential running mate. According to NPR, Biden has the most diverse cabinet in recent history: 45% of his cabinet members are women, while 55% are people of color.
The importance of a diverse federal court system cannot be understated. The American people should be represented by individuals who can share their experiences. Yet, Biden’s announcement subjects his future nominee to undue scrutiny, which devalues their professional merits.
When Biden’s choice of presidential running mate was announced in 2020, Vice President Kamala Harris was discredited as a potential vice president because critics believed she was only selected because she is a woman of color.
“[Harris] was only picked for her color and race…is that how we pick our leaders now in America?” North Carolina Republican Congressman Greg Murphy said in a Sept. 2020 tweet.
By shifting discourse away from a nominee’s qualifications and instead focusing soley on race and gender, critics argue that they are undeserving of their position
However, while consideration must also be given to experience and standing on key political issues so the candidate may best serve their constituents, demographic factors are important to ensuring fair representation in the Supreme Court.
Concerningly, Biden’s promise resembles performative activism. The president publicly announced he would be nominating a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court but did not address how his administration could work to dismantle the racist structures that have barred Black people from access to such positions.
The nomination itself will serve as a symbol of the societal shift to empower women of color and will show Black women that they have the potential to achieve greatness, despite historical setbacks. However, further action must be taken to remove barriers for Black women in the U.S. government to ensure this promise of diversity continues after Biden’s presidency.
Biden’s intention to bring previously underrepresented demographics into positions of power is clearly long overdue in the American political sphere.
It is inarguable that Black women have historically been excluded from positions of power within the U.S. Justice System, an act detrimental to Black women across the country whose specific needs cannot be met by representatives who do not relate to their unique life experiences. This necessitates change, which Biden is actively facilitating; but he must carry out this process with longevity in mind.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Featured Photo Caption: President Biden plans to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court this month. Black people and women are underrepresented in America’s court system.