The Universal Notebook: The Supremes need a Black woman

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Joe Biden could have saved himself a lot of grief by not announcing his Supreme Court intentions ahead of time.

“The person I will nominate,” the president said, “will be somebody with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”

Edgar Allen BeemClearly, a Black woman justice on the Supreme Court is long overdue. As with a lot of things, like withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden sometimes has a clumsy way of doing the right thing. Had he simply surveyed the entire field of qualified nominees and then announced, say, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his pick, Biden wouldn’t have given the Trumpublican rat pack so much ammo. 

Creepy Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for example, found Biden’s intention to name a Black woman to the bench “offensive” and “insulting.” Nasty Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, called Biden’s pledge “the most racist thing.” Of course, Cruz and Greene would say something like that no matter who Biden nominates. Neither had any problem with Donald Trump announcing that he would appoint a woman to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Cruz’s argument is that because Black women make up only about 6 percent of the U.S. population, Biden is telling 94 percent of Americans that they are not eligible. Of course, Cruz ignores the fact that since 1790 there have been 115 Supreme Court justices, all of them white men except for five women and two Black men. 

White men, historically, are only 30 percent of the U.S. population but 94 percent of Supreme Court justices. Tell me it’s not time for the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

Biden was not only clumsy in telegraphing his punch so far in advance but he is also (sorry for the mixed metaphor) on thin ice touting his planned appointment of the first Black woman to the court.

That honor might have gone to U.S. Circuit Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who was on George Bush’s shortlist to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, but then-Sen. Joe Biden warned Bush that Brown’s nomination would be filibustered and blocked by Democrats. So we got Justice Samuel Alito instead.

Biden and other Democratic senators opposed Brown on ideological grounds. As a justice of the California Supreme Court, she was found by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to have had “a strong, persistent, and disturbing hostility toward affirmative action, civil rights, the rights of individuals with disabilities, workers’ rights, and the fairness of the criminal justice system.”

It’s a good thing Brown wasn’t the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. That would have been an embarrassment to Black women everywhere. Brown once held that prosecutors had every right to exclude jurors on the basis of being Black women.

Whoever Biden nominates to replace Justice Stephen Breyer will be attacked by Republicans. Don’t be surprised if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, comes up with some underhanded way to block the nomination or to prevent a vote until after the midterm elections. 

To argue that it is racist to focus on appointing a Black woman to the Supreme Court is an example of just how thoroughly Republicans have abandoned American ideals.

What do we aspire to be as a people? Do we still want to be a land of freedom, equality, and justice? If so, we must be inclusive. But it sure seems as though Republicans are determined to hang on to white male privilege as long as humanly possible. 

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.