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Senators split on Biden's pledge to pick Black woman for Supreme Court seat

"Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
President Joe Biden speaks at Carnegie Mellon University on Jan. 28, 2022, in Pittsburgh.
President Joe Biden speaks Friday at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Some senators are split over President Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer when he retires later this year.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the Judiciary Committee and would be responsible for steering Biden's pick through the nomination process, pushed back against critics of Biden's pledge by citing past presidential promises that elevated women to the high court.

“I’d remind them to take a look back at history and recall that it was [former President] Ronald Reagan who announced that he was going to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court. And he did, Sandra Day O’Connor,” he said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Former President Donald Trump "announced that he was going to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a woman nominee," he said, referring to Trump's nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. “So this is not the first time that a president has signaled what they’re looking for in a nominee.”

The White House confirmed Friday that Biden is considering Judge J. Michelle Childs as a candidate to succeed Breyer, who announced his retirement Thursday. Childs, a U.S. district judge in South Carolina who is backed by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a Biden ally, is the first person the administration has publicly identified as a possible nominee.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., compared Biden’s pledge to affirmative action.

“The irony is the Supreme Court, at the very same time, is hearing cases about this sort of affirmative racial discrimination and while adding someone who is the beneficiary of this sort of quota," he said Friday on “The Gallo Show,” a Mississippi radio program.

In response, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said: "When President Reagan honored his campaign pledge to place the first woman on the court, he said it 'symbolized' the unique American opportunity 'that permits persons of any sex, age, or race, from every section and every walk of life to aspire and achieve in a manner never before even dreamed about in human history.'"

Biden's promise to nominate a Black woman, Bates said, "is in line with the best traditions of both parties and our nation." Reagan nominated O'Connor in 1981, a major advance for women's representation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Judiciary Committee, appeared to push back against Wicker's remarks, saying, "Affirmative action is picking someone not as well qualified for past wrongs."

"Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America," Graham said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation." "You know, we make a real effort as Republicans to recruit women and people of color to make the party look more like America.

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"Childs is incredibly qualified. There's no affirmative action component if you pick her. She is highly qualified," he added.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Biden's handling of replacing Breyer "has been clumsy at best."

"I would welcome the appointment of a Black female to the court," Collins said Sunday on "This Week." "I believe that diversity benefits the Supreme Court. But the way that the president has handled this nomination has been clumsy at best. It adds to the further perception that the court is a political institution like Congress, when it is not supposed to be."

Collins went on to reject the comparison of Biden’s pledge to actions by Reagan and Trump, saying: “Actually, it isn’t exactly the same.

“I’ve looked at what was done in both cases, and what President Biden did was, as a candidate, make this pledge. And that helped politicize the entire nomination process,” she added. “But what President Reagan said is, as one of his Supreme Court justices, he would like to appoint a woman, and he appointed a highly qualified one in Sandra Day O’Connor."

Biden has said he will reveal his Supreme Court pick by the end of February, which coincides with Black History Month.