WASHINGTON – After meeting President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and his senior House Democrats in the Oval Office earlier this month, South Carolina Representative James E. Clyburn made his way to Ms. Harris’ office in the west wing for a private one Issue that was not raised during their group discussion: the Supreme Court.
Mr. Clyburn, the senior African American in Congress, wanted to offer Ms. Harris the name of a potential future judiciary, according to a Democrat who was informed of their conversation. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs would fulfill Mr. Biden’s promise to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court – and, as Mr. Clyburn noted, she happened to be from South Carolina, a state of political importance to the United States President.
There may not be a vacancy on the Supreme Court right now, but Mr Clyburn and other lawmakers are already maneuvering to promote candidates and a fresh approach to a nomination that could come as early as this summer if some Democrats hope for justice to Stephen Breyer The 82-year-old will retire. Given that the Democrats have the closest majority in the Senate and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is still painfully fresh on the mind, these party leaders want to shape Mr Biden’s appointment, including moving the party away from the usual Ivy League résumés.
Early jockeying shows how eagerly Democratic officials are eager to leave their mark on Mr Biden’s efforts to attract historically under-represented candidates for a landmark Supreme Court nomination. But it also takes a look at nasty issues of class and credibility in the Democratic Party that have been just below the surface since the days of the Obama administration.
Some Democrats, like Mr. Clyburn, who have nervously watched Republicans try to repackage themselves as a Labor Party, believe that Mr Biden could send a message of his determination to remain loyal to Democrats by choosing a candidate like their working-class woman Childs who attended public universities.
“One of the things we have to be very, very careful about when Democrats are painted with this elitist brush,” said Clyburn, adding, “When people talk to diversity, they always look at race and ethnicity – I look over it in addition to the variety of experiences. “
Representative G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, like Mr. Clyburn, a veteran member of the Black Caucus of Congress, emailed White House attorney Dana Remus last month made a similar point and listed the caucus’ preferred criteria for the Appointment of federal courts listed. At the top of the list, Butterfield said, was “The judge should have a variety of experiences in different situations and in different areas, including outside the law.”
Mr. Biden’s promise to try the first black woman on trial was an unusual election promise: Mr. Clyburn nudged him to do so in a debate in Charleston outside South Carolina’s central area code last year. It was a vow that even some of the president’s aides resisted, worried it might look like pandering.
Mr Biden has said little in public since he was elected about his preferences for the court, but as a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has had a split personality when it comes to personnel policy. Happy to highlight his Scranton, Pennsylvania roots, state school diploma, and nickname “Middle-Class Joe,” but has long surrounded himself with aides and advisers who wield the kind of pedigree he lacks.
And some White House officials are already preparing for unfair right-wing attacks on the black woman they have chosen. You are convinced that the future candidate must have a flawless résumé. “It has to be someone with undisputed qualifications so it doesn’t look like an unqualified person,” said a senior Biden official, who discussed possible nominations from courts on condition of anonymity the west wing.
Among the potential candidates selected for a seat on the Supreme Court, Ms. Childs has a background that is different from the recent candidates. Unlike eight of the nine current Supreme Court justices, Ms. Childs, 54, did not attend Ivy League college. Her mother worked for Southern Bell in Columbia, S.C., and Ms. Childs received a scholarship from the University of South Florida. She later graduated from the University of South Carolina law school and became the first black woman to partner with one of the state’s largest law firms. In the manner of an earlier generation of lawyers, she rose in state politics before being appointed to the bank. Ms. Childs was a senior civil servant in the South Carolina Labor Department before she was appointed to the State Workers Compensation Board.
“She’s the kind of person who has the kind of experience that would make her a good addition to the Supreme Court,” said Clyburn.
Mr. Clyburn, whose coveted assistance helped revive Mr. Biden’s listing campaign in front of South Carolina Elementary School last year, was particularly active on her behalf as part of what his advisors call his most important request to the administration. The 80-year-old house whip has spoken out with Ms. Harris on behalf of Ms. Childs. Mrs. Remus; and Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Bakari Sellers, a Democratic political commentator close to Ms. Harris, has also alerted members of the Vice President’s inner circle to Ms. Childs, who was appointed to the Bundesbank by Mr. Obama in 2010.
“It is important not only for our party but also for the judiciary to have someone who has had experience,” said Sellers.
What is causing some of these officials to go public with a more aggressive form of advocacy are two developments.
First they saw the stuff of a short list in a Ruth Marcus pillar The Washington Post earlier this month named two potential Breyer successors who, like Ms. Childs, are young enough to serve in the field for several decades. The two named – Washington, DC District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger – both have Ivy League law degrees and important connections. Ms. Jackson, 50, was an employee of Mr. Breyer himself, and Ms. Kruger, 44, was Mr. Obama’s assistant attorney general
There are a handful of other black women in their forties with elite qualifications who have caught lawmakers’ attention, including some on the Judiciary Committee. There’s Danielle Holley-Walker, dean of law school at Howard University, and Leslie Abrams Gardner, a Georgia federal district court judge who is a younger sister of Stacey Abrams.
More important is the question of timing.
There are relatively few black women in federal appeals courts, where presidents often take their candidates to the Supreme Court. Very soon, however, there will be another position in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – which can be a stepping stone for the Supreme Court – if Judge Merrick B. Garland resigns to become attorney general. Ms. Childs could be better placed to advance to the Supreme Court if she were on that appeals court, say some of her admirers.
“There is an immediate vacancy there so I would advocate your DC circuit consideration,” Mr. Butterfield, himself a former Supreme Court Justice, said of Ms. Childs. “And when and if there is a vacancy at the Supreme Court, it should also be considered.”
Another possible candidate for a seat in the court is Cheri Beasley, who lost her re-election as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court in November by 412 votes. She also attended a public university and climbed through justice via service in the lower state courts. Still, Ms. Beasley has told people that she is considering an offer for the open Senate seat in North Carolina next year, according to a Democrat who spoke to her.
If there is a judicial vacancy, several Democrats prepare to create Obama-era tensions documented by former President Donald Trump.
Many members of the Black Caucus of Congress, as well as a number of white Democrats, believe that the party is too closely associated with the elite and that this perception only feeds Republicans political fodder during the campaign season.
“This is not critical of the Harvards or the Yales, but I think there are some great lawyers who are really, really smart and who come from other places on earth,” said Senator Jon Tester of Montana, where the Democrats lost everything have three festival races last year. “And I think we should take them into account.”
Vi Lyles, the Mayor of Charlotte, said, “When you have the fullest perspective on what’s going on in the country, you are a better decision maker and leader.”
Even more delicate are the ongoing frustrations among black leaders, many of whom attended state schools or historically black institutions, over Obama’s impartial treatment of the Black Caucus in Congress, and his administration’s apparent preference for candidates with elite qualifications.
“He was predisposed to be an Ivy League nominee, we can all agree,” said Butterfield.
Mr. Sellers was even more dull. “I love Barack Obama, but there was an Ivy League culture that came from the White House and we need to move away from it,” he said.
The frustration with Mr Obama culminated in his selection of Mr Garland to the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Some Congressional Democrats believed the former president could have put pressure on Republicans and energized Democrats if he had chosen a black woman and been angry when he said he wasn’t looking for “a black Skokie lesbian”.
What Mr Clyburn is going to say weirdly is that Mr Biden not only owes black voters for his nomination, but he owes his gratitude to African Americans who revived his candidacy in South Carolina and those across the south who got his nomination three Almost cemented days later when he swept the region on Super Tuesday.
Some African American Democrats believe that black Americans will rally behind the black woman who nominates Mr. Biden, suspecting that Mr. Clyburn is looking for a rationale to improve his home state and polish his legacy.
Yet few politicians preach more than Mr Biden about the importance of “dancing with whoever brought you,” as the president often says. To date, Mr. Clyburn has appointed two of his closest allies to the administration, with former Representative Marcia Fudge appointed Housing Secretary and Jaime Harrison appointed head of the National Democratic Committee.
When asked if he could assist Ms. Childs in the Supreme Court, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, a Republican and the first Southern Black Senator elected since the Rebuild, said he was unwilling to pledge. But he praised her for her “very good reputation” and said her appointment “would reflect the positive and powerful progress we have made in the great state of South Carolina.”
However, Mr Scott was more direct when asked if Mr Biden owed it to South Carolina black voters, given the role they played in his journey to the presidency.
“Jim Clyburn would say so,” he said with a smile.