Dems Eye SCOTUS Pick to Help Prospects 01/27 06:08
Democrats stung by a series of election year failures to deliver legislative
wins for their most loyal voters hope they'll be buoyed by the prospect that
President Joe Biden will name the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme
(AP) -- Democrats stung by a series of election year failures to deliver
legislative wins for their most loyal voters hope they'll be buoyed by the
prospect that President Joe Biden will name the first Black woman to serve on
the Supreme Court.
Justice Stephen Breyer's pending retirement, confirmed by numerous sources
on Wednesday, couldn't have come at a better time for a Democratic Party
reeling from the collapse of Biden's legislative agenda last week, including a
push to overhaul election laws that voting rights advocates said was critical
to protecting democracy.
As Democrats regroup with an eye on maintaining a tenuous grip on Congress
after November's midterm elections, the prospect of naming Breyer's replacement
offered an opportunity to pause from those bruising battles. Seeing Biden's
campaign pledge to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court
fulfilled, Democrats hope they can energize a dejected base, particularly Black
voters whose support will be crucial in the fall campaign.
"This is a huge opportunity for us," said Aimee Allison, founder of She the
People, a national organization that encourages women of color to vote. "It
turns out that appointing a Black woman (to the Supreme Court) at this moment
could help to make up for the policy and political losses that we've seen
"It's a win," Allison said.
Among the names being circulated as potential nominees are California
Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson,
prominent civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill and U.S. District Judge Michelle
Childs, whom Biden has nominated to be an appeals court judge. Childs is a
favorite of Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who made a crucial endorsement of Biden
just before South Carolina's presidential primary in 2020.
The exact timing of Breyer's retirement remains unclear, but Senate
Democrats who control the confirmation process plan to begin the proceedings as
soon as possible.
Despite that energetic push, there are risks for Biden and his party that
could jeopardize any apparent political advantages born of an election-year
Supreme Court vacancy.
Replacing Breyer won't ultimately change the court's 6-3 conservative
majority, which has stymied Biden on major priorities including his recent
vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses.
And if every Senate Republican unites to oppose the nominee, the president
would need to secure support from every Democrat in the chamber. That could
potentially revive recent fights in which moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin
of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema bucked the party and defeated its
In a statement Wednesday, Manchin made clear he would scrutinize the pick.
"I take my Constitutional responsibility to advise and consent on a nominee
to the Supreme Court very seriously," he said. "I look forward to meeting with
and evaluating the qualifications of President Biden's nominee to fill this
Supreme Court vacancy."
Republicans, who privately conceded Wednesday's development may help
Democrats in the short term, were quick to signal that they would cast the
nominee as too far to the left no matter whom Biden selects.
"The Democrats know they will lose the Senate majority in 2022," said
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the Senate GOP's campaign arm. "I predict
that Chuck Schumer and whoever is running the White House will force all
Democrats to obey and walk the plank in support of a radical liberal with
Indeed, the development was most expected to influence the fight for the
Senate majority, where Democrats have the slimmest possible majority.
Vulnerable Democratic incumbents from New Hampshire to Nevada seized on the
upcoming Supreme Court confirmation debate, highlighting abortion rights in
The high court's conservative majority in December signaled openness to
dramatic restrictions on abortion and may even overturn the landmark Roe v.
Wade precedent. A decision is expected by the summer.
"The next justice must understand how their decisions impact the Nevadans I
fight for every day, and that is especially true when it comes to women's
reproductive rights," said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the Nevada Democrat who
faces a challenging reelection test in a state where voters largely support
It's much the same dynamic in New Hampshire for Democratic Sen. Jeanne
"There is so much at stake for Americans today that will be directly
affected by the U.S. Supreme Court, from women's reproductive freedom to
safeguarding civil liberties for all Americans and ensuring equal access to the
ballot box," she said. "I look forward to reviewing President Biden's choice."
And while the politics may initially benefit Democrats, Republicans wasted
no time in seizing on the looming Supreme Court vacancy to raise campaign cash.
Soon after news of Breyer's pending retirement was released, the Republican
National Committee blasted out a fundraising email announcing the creation of
an "Official Defend the Court Fund."
"Make NO mistake -- Biden will pick a nominee that is pro-abortion, anti-gun
and anti-religious liberty," the GOP warned.
Still, there was a palpable sense of relief and optimism among Democrats,
including those who have grown frustrated with the slow pace of change under
"It's not a silver bullet, but my God, this is a big deal, man," said Young
Democrats of America President Quentin Wathum-Ocama, who has been critical of
the Biden presidency. "This is huge for so many reasons. It's going to get
Democrats need all the help they can get.
JB Poersch, who leads a super PAC aligned with Senate Democrats, said the
nomination fight may help motivate Democratic voters -- especially if
Republicans try to interfere with the nomination process -- but there are no
"We have no room for error," he said.