WASHINGTON (The Hill): Democrats are up in arms over GOP critics blasting President Biden’s vow to pick a Black woman for the Supreme Court, saying the notion that Biden’s strategy represents affirmative action is merely “political race-baiting” designed to stir up the Republican base.
“It’s the racist dog-whistle that everyone hears,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
Biden’s promise to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court stretches back to the presidential campaign, but it’s taken on new significance since last month when Justice Stephen Breyer announced his plan to retire this year.
Declaring his intent to keep that promise, Biden vowed last month to choose a candidate “with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity.”
“And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court,” Biden added. “It’s long overdue.”
Republicans on and off Capitol Hill have wasted no time condemning Biden’s plan, saying it promotes racial quotas instead of a process in which nominees are picked based solely on merit. And their numbers are growing.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) characterized Biden’s promise as a case of “affirmative racial discrimination,” suggesting the eventual nominee would be cast under a shadow as “the beneficiary of this sort of quota.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) accused the administration of being “race-obsessed.” And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) blasted the president’s vow as “offensive” and “an insult to Black women.”
“It is an example [of] how [to] Democrats, and particularly the far left, everything is race,” Cruz said on his podcast. “They will discriminate based on race.”
Those GOP lawmakers were joined in their criticism by conservative pundits, including the wildly popular Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, who said Biden’s strategy is outright racist.
“It’s possible we have all marinated for so long in the casual racism of affirmative action that it seems normal now to reduce human beings to their race,” he said last month.
Those critiques have drawn howls from Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill, particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who are quick to point out that, for almost two centuries, eligibility for the Supreme Court was limited to a single demographic — white men — and that only seven of the 115 justices ever to serve on high court are women or minorities. A Black woman has never been nominated.
“It’s political race-baiting once again,” said Johnson. “It’s strictly legitimate for someone running for president, who sees that there’s a need for diversity on the bench, to make a promise that they will diversify the bench.”
“These people are phonies, and they continue to try to divide America by engaging racially inflammatory and unnecessary rhetoric,” echoed Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus and another CBC member. “Clearly they are endeavoring to engage in racially inflammatory activity, because they believe it will rev up their hard-right base.”
The politics of race on Capitol Hill, reflecting the broader debate across the country, have always been fraught. But those tensions have been under the spotlight in recent years with the arrival of President Obama, the nation’s first Black president, who faced false accusations of foreign citizenship; and then President Trump, who used incendiary racial language to attack minorities and other groups he deemed to be disloyal.
More recently, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 sparked Black Lives Matter protests around the country — a movement cheered by most Democrats as a welcome extension of the civil rights movement, but denounced by many Republicans who saw a violent threat to law and order.
Against that backdrop, Democrats of all stripes are cheering Biden’s adherence to his pledge to name a Black woman to the Court, while hammering the GOP critics as anachronisms from an era when white men were dominant.
“I’ve heard these criticisms, as a Black woman, all my life. In many ways they’re denying our existence as patriotic, smart, committed Americans who are trying to strengthen this country — for everyone. But they always do that,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a former head of the Black Caucus. “Ask most Black women, they know.”
Biden’s allies are also quick to point out that he’s not the first president to announce an intent to select a minority to the Supreme Court before the opportunity arose. Ronald Reagan, on the campaign trail in 1980, had come under fire for his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, which is designed to empower women. In response, he vowed to name a female jurist to the high court — a promise that led to his 1981 appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor, who became the first woman on the Court.
“The very same people who are criticizing Biden today did not criticize Reagan when he promised to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court. So why does having this woman happen to be African American piss them off so much?” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.).
“It’s hypocrisy,” he added. “They didn’t criticize Reagan, then they shouldn’t criticize Biden.”