In January, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement after twenty-eight years of service on the court. Breyer, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, played a significant role in overseeing crucial cases relating to freedom of speech for students (Mahanoy Area School District v. Brandi Levy), the protection of abortion (Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt), and the separation of church and state (McCreary County v. ACLU). He provided a moderately liberal opinion to the Supreme Court, making this vacancy a key factor in the future of abortion, guns, and other highly contested issues.
With the retirement of Justice Breyer, the Biden administration promises that this opening will be filled by a Black woman for the first time in the history of the United States Supreme Court. Biden restated his dedication to this pledge in a press interview: “It’s long overdue in my view. I made that commitment during the campaign for president, and I will keep that commitment” (Biden).
The top appointee pick is rumored to be Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson, currently serving in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. circuit, which is hailed as the country’s second most powerful court. She attended and completed two degrees from Harvard University and has clerked for three federal judges. Jackson is highly respected due to her character and her dedication to the law.
While Judge Jackson is widely esteemed, the selection process that President Biden administered was met with mass backlash and controversy from voters. Many believe that the appointees should have been chosen based on competency and ability, not gender or racial status. Some even went as far to say that this move was racist and sexist. According to ABC News, about 76% of voters wanted the president to consider all possible nominees, while 23% wanted him to maintain his vow of implementing the first Black woman as a Supreme Court Justice (Shepherd, 2022). A current Upper Merion student weighed in with his opinion: “I feel that Biden should not have opened up by using a racial and sexual profile to narrow his options down. He should have gone off of merit. And if his angle was to have a specific racial or gender group represented, he should have done that quietly… He opened himself to a lot of questions and it was not a smart decision on his part.”
Now the question is, why did President Biden do this? Having a Black woman on the Supreme Court serves a greater purpose than just interpreting the law. It legitimizes the equality that marginalized groups have spent generations fighting for. It brings perspective to the bench by including an individual that understands sexism and racism firsthand. It challenges the idea that a Black woman is less qualified for a position due to her status. Many of the criticisms I have heard are rooted in this underlying doubt that a nominee that carries these qualities would be less intelligent or prepared for the job. Judge Jackson has both the ability and insight that makes her fit to fill the vacancy. Diversifying the bench is good– and necessary. For the future of our country, for the future of women, for the future of Black Americans, for the future of young Black girls: a Black female Supreme Court Justice is a step forward for the United States, and will serve as a crucial reminder for marginalized groups that their ability can overpower the permeating barriers and stigmas of our world.