Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement allows Biden to make history by appointing its first Black woman
The liberal supreme court justice Stephen Breyer is retiring and Joe Biden has said he will stand by a previous promise to nominate a Black woman to America’s highest legal body.
At 83 years old, Breyer is the oldest justice of the court and his retirement will give Biden his first seat to fill on the supreme court, which is currently conservative-leaning by six to three. Replacing Breyer won’t allow Biden to change that dynamic but it does allow him to ensure the liberal contingent is not reduced further and make history by appointing its first Black woman.
Here are some of the women considered leading contenders for the seat:
Ketanji Brown Jackson
Born in Washington DC and raised in Miami, Florida, Jackson has been a judge of the US court of appeals for the DC circuit since June 2021 after the 51-year-old Harvard graduate replaced the attorney general, Merrick Garland.
The DC circuit has historically been seen as a stepping stone to the supreme court. From 2010 to 2014, Jackson served as vice-chair of the United States sentencing commission, during which the commission significantly reduced sentences for numerous drug offenders.
Kruger, a native of Los Angeles, is an associate justice of the supreme court of California. The 45-year-old was previously the acting principal deputy solicitor general under the Barack Obama administration.
Supreme court justice Elena Kagan once called Kruger “one of the best advocates in the Department of Justice”. Kruger has argued 12 cases in front of the supreme court. She has previously described her approach to the law as one that “reflects that fact that we operate in a system of precedent”.
J Michelle Childs
Childs is currently serving as a district judge of the US district court for the district of South Carolina. Appointed by Obama in 2009, the 55-year-old Detroit native has also been nominated by Biden for a seat on the DC circuit court of appeals. Childs was also the first Black woman to become a partner at Nexsen Pruet, LLC, one of South Carolina’s major law firms.
She has served as the deputy director in the labor division at South Carolina’s department of labor, licensing and regulation. Congressman Jim Clyburn, a close ally of Biden, is fiercely supports Childs and has previously pushed the Biden administration to nominate her as the supreme court’s next liberal justice. “She is the kind of person who has the sort of experiences that would make her a good addition to the supreme court,” Clyburn said.
Wright is a district judge of the US district court for the district of Minnesota. A favorite of Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the 58-year-old is also Minnesota’s first female African American justice. Wright has previously said that fairness, impartially and respect for the rule of law have been her “lodestar”, adding that she “give[s] no consideration to whether I agree or disagree with a party”. She has also emphasized the importance of diversity in the judicial system, at one point writing: “I believe it would undermine the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary if there were no judges who are women or judges of color.”
Since August 2021, Lee, 52, has been a judge of the US court of appeals for the second circuit after being nominated by Biden. Lee has worked at the office of the appellate defender in New York City from 1998 to 2019. In addition, from 2019 until her bench appointment, Lee was an assistant federal defender in the appeals bureau of the federal defenders of New York.
Jackson-Akiwumi is currently a US circuit judge of the US court of appeals for the seventh circuit since July 2021. Jackson-Akiwumi is the first judge appointed to the seventh circuit who has a background as a federal public defender.
Nominated by Biden in April 2021, Jackson-Akiwumi was also a staff attorney at the federal defender program in the northern district of Illinois from 2010 to 2020 where she represented indigent people who were accused of federal crimes. From 2020 to 2021, Jackson-Akiwumi served as a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder, a DC-based law firm where she focused on civil litigations and white-collar criminal defense.
Ifill is the president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Before joining LDF as an assistant council in 1988, the 59-year-old New York native was a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ifill taught civil procedure and constitutional law for over two decades and pioneered numerous law clinics, including one of the first in the country that focused on challenging legal obstacles to the re-entry of ex-offenders. In 2021, Time named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
This article was amended on 27 January 2022 to clarify that Wilhelmina Wright was the first female African American justice on the Minnesota supreme court.