“Obama, Think of Your Legacy and Pick a Black Woman”

Black Lives Matter

The Washington Post today reported that black civil rights groups, professional race baiters and activists (read: Black Lives Matter) are pressing the nation’s first African American president to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court, calling it an overdue historic first at a time of growing ethnic diversity and an intense debate about racial justice issues.

The pressure has been building since Justice Antonin Scalia’s ‘sudden death’ gave President Obama what is likely his final opportunity to shape the high court, according to civil rights activists and people familiar with the selection process. At a recent White House meeting, for example, a number of activists directly urged the president to nominate an African American woman, pointing out that they had supported him at the polls in overwhelming numbers, said people in attendance.

African American woman

“The appointment of an African American woman to the Supreme Court is essential to his legacy,” said Barbara R. Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, who helped launch one of two online petitions calling on Obama to defy fierce Republican opposition and name a woman of color to the court.

But it is unclear how much the civil rights community’s concerns will figure into Obama’s calculus as he wrestles with how to approach Senate Republicans, who have vowed to block any nominee without holding a hearing. People familiar with Obama’s deliberations say he is considering a range of factors, including diversity, but is primarily focused on whether the candidate can win confirmation. According to those people, the president thinks that any nominee would be better for progressive causes than Scalia, who was an outspoken conservative.

Not Black, not White, but qualifications

When Obama was urged to choose a black woman at the Feb. 18 meeting with young and veteran civil rights leaders, his response focused on the prospects for confirmation. “His response was that he would be looking for the most qualified person who can get confirmed,” said one attendee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting.

This attendee said it would be “heartbreaking” if Obama — whose previous Supreme Court appointees were justices Sonia Sotomayor, a Hispanic woman, and Elena Kagan, a white woman — had three shots at the high court, and “none of them were African American.’’

Brandi Hoffine, a White House spokeswoman, said the president “takes his constitutional responsibility to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court seriously, and the administration has consulted with a wide range of stakeholders, including senators from both parties, legal experts, advocacy groups, state and local leaders and others.”

“We’ve been clear,” she added, “that the individual the president ultimately nominates will be eminently qualified, hold a deep respect for the role of the judiciary in our democracy, and have tangible real-world experience in interpreting the law.”

Civil rights leaders

Civil rights leaders said Tuesday that they regard Brown Jackson as a highly credible candidate. “Her name leaps out of the current list. It’s a question of intellect and broad life experience,’’ said Steve Phillips, founder of the social justice group PowerPAC+ and author of the book “Brown is the New White.’’

Phillips — whose organization along with the progressive group Democracy for America launched an online petition calling for a woman of color to be nominated — pointed out that some famous justices never served on the lower courts, such as Earl Warren, who was chief justice in the 1950s and 1960s after serving as governor of California.

Possible candidates

Although the White House has listed many possible candidates, activists and civil rights leaders are not giving up, urging Obama to cast a wider net in the search. “With the issues that are going to come before the court in the next decade, you need to make sure all perspectives are there,” said Benjamin L. Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer who is president of the National Bar Association, the nation’s largest group of lawyers of color. He cited issues the high court could take up in coming years, such as school funding, police brutality and equal pay for women and minorities.

“We think an African American woman would be uniquely qualified to give a perspective that the court doesn’t have right now,’’ said Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teen shot and killed in a widely publicized 2012 incident.

And Brooks, the NAACP president, cited the nation’s growing ethnic diversity.“It’s 2016,” he said. “It’s high time for the consideration of African American women on the court. . . . it’s likely to be the president’s last chance.”

Jason Bergkamp
Jason Bergkamp is a Dutch based journalist writing about European, American and South African events.