Joe Biden faces calls to nominate first African American woman to the Supreme Court

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Joe Biden has his first opportunity to nominate a candidate to the Supreme Court - Olivier Douliery/AFP
Joe Biden has his first opportunity to nominate a candidate to the Supreme Court - Olivier Douliery/AFP

Joe Biden is under pressure to nominate the first African American woman to the US Supreme Court, after it emerged one of its three liberal justices plans to retire within months.

Justice Stephen Breyer's expected retirement offers Democrats a crucial opportunity to install a liberal successor ahead of November's mid-term elections, when the party faces losing control of Congress.

As one of the court's liberal justices, Mr Breyer's replacement will not alter the ideological balance of the 6-3 conservative majority court.

However, the reports of his imminent retirement prompted immediate calls from leading Democrats for the president to follow through on his election pledge to nominate the first black woman to America's highest court.

Patty Murray, a senior Democratic senator, said she trusted Mr Biden would put forward an "exceptional nominee" who will “break barriers and make history”.

The comments were echoed by a cohort of progressives in the House of Representatives, including Jamaal Bowman - who said: "You promised us a black woman on the Supreme Court. Let’s see it happen."

Mr Biden made the commitment in early 2020, as he courted black voters who later secured him the Democratic nomination.

“It’s required that they have representation now. It’s long overdue,” he said at the time.

With polls suggesting Mr Biden's popularity among African Americans is in steep decline, it seems highly improbable that the president would not honour the pledge.

Mr Biden has already signalled his intent to diversify the judiciary by nominating a number of black women and the first Muslim American to other senior vacancies.

Those nominations mean the president already has a pool of talented potential nominees to consider.

The most likely contenders are Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, who Mr Biden has already elevated to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia - considered the country's second-most powerful federal court - and Leondra Kruger, of the California Supreme Court.

The speculation over potential candidates led conservative commentators to accuse Mr Biden of playing identity politics and placating the "radical element" of his party.

"I'm sure it will be... a black woman," said Tomi Lahren, Fox News commentator, before adding: "We saw how well that worked out with Kamala Harris but here's to hoping that he has a better choice in mind for this position."

Lahren later responded to accusations of racism, saying: "Picking a nominee based solely on race, gender and identity politics is what I’m criticising".

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer - Jim Young/Reuters
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer - Jim Young/Reuters

Mr Breyer, 83, is the oldest of the Supreme Court's nine justices.

He has faced intense pressure from Democrats to retire while the party maintains its narrow control of the Senate.

His late colleague Ruth Bader-Ginsburg resisted similar calls during Barack Obama's presidency.

Her death in 2020 allowed Donald Trump to install Amy Coney-Barrett, solidifying the court's conservative majority for years to come.

A nomination battle for Mr Breyer's successor now looms in Congress ahead of the mid-term elections.

The Supreme Court nominee can be confirmed by a simple majority, but every Democrat in the 50-50 split Senate will have to support Mr Biden's nominee.

As vice-president, Kamala Harris has the power to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Mr Biden is likely to choose a nominee whom centrist Democratic senators, like Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator, will support in order to avoid a protracted confirmation process.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senate majority leader, said Mr Biden's nominee would be considered "with all deliberate speed".

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