SCOTUS Nominee Short List Is Long on Experience, Representation and Gender Justice

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Biden is said to have narrowed his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court to three highly qualified Black women, fulfilling his campaign promise and correcting the shameful history of a Court where 94% of all Supreme Court Justices have been white men, 4% women, and less than 3% people of color. 

We’re expecting a concerted, well-financed, and ugly campaign to oppose this nomination, based in misogyny, racism, and lies. But we are confident that the potential nominees are each exceptionally qualified, with a breadth and depth of experience the Supreme Court desperately needs. We know that whoever she is, she will be an advocate for justice, especially when it comes to the intersectional issues that matter to NOW. NOW will be mobilizing our members to support this history-making nomination, and to stand up to the juggernaut of opposition that has already begun.   

Here’s what you need to know about the three potential nominees. All three would be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court—a milestone that is long overdue. 

J. Michelle Childs

Judge J. Michelle Childs is seen by her supporters as an outsider who would bring fresh perspective to the Supreme Court.  Her legal background is less D.C. -centric than other potential nominees—she did not clerk at the Supreme Court, serve in the Department of Justice, or work in a white-shoe D.C. law firm.  Instead, she has spent her career in her home state of South Carolina, where she has been mentored and supported by Rep. James Clyburn, who has recommended her appointment to President Joe Biden. 

Childs was born in Detroit and was raised by a single mother who moved the family to Columbia, S.C. after her father died.  She graduated from the University of Florida in 1988, where she was named the school’s most outstanding graduate that year, and received a law degree and a business degree from the University of South Carolina in 1991. 

After law school, she spent seven years in private practice, litigating in state and federal courts in cases involving family law, qualified immunity for social workers, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and employment discrimination.  In 2000, she became the deputy director of the South Carolina Department of Labor, and Governor Jim Hodges appointed her as a commissioner on the South Carolina Worker’s Compensation Commission in 2002. 

In 2006, Childs was elected by the state legislature to serve as a circuit court judge and was re-elected in 2009.  She served as the chief administrative judge for criminal courts from January 2008 until January 2010, as well as the first chief administrative judge for business courts. During her time in state court, she presided over roughly 50 trials in both civil and criminal cases. President Barack Obama nominated J. Michelle Childs to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina in December 2009. 

One of the most high-profile rulings she issued as a district judge came in 2014, in a challenge to South Carolina’s refusal to recognize the marriage of two women, performed in the District of Columbia.  Judge Childs agreed that the state’s failure to recognize the out-of-state marriage violated the Constitution.  The women, she wrote, have a “constitutionally protected, fundamental liberty interest in the right to marry.” A year later, the Supreme Court followed her lead in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that same-sex marriage is a fundamental constitutional right. 

During the 2020 election cycle, Childs barred the state from enforcing a witness requirement for absentee ballots that, she said, would violate the constitutional right to vote citing the “unique risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

As a district judge, she has said that when drafting her opinions, she was writing not only for the parties involved but for the wider world.  “In many ways,” she said, “I’ve looked at my job as trying to bring some truth to that old joke:  I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” 

 Ketanji Brown Jackson 

Judge Jackson, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, would not only be the first Black woman on the court but at 51, one of the youngest justices, second only to Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who recently turned 50. 

A native Washingtonian, Jackson moved to Florida as a child with her parents, graduates of HBCUs who worked as public school teachers.  She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and cum laude from Harvard Law School and worked in a variety of legal jobs, including two years as a public defender. 

She clerked for three federal judges, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and when that clerkship ended, she became an associate in the Boston office of a large law firm, Goodwin Procter, where she was one of the lawyers in a “friend of the court” brief supporting a Massachusetts law that created a floating “buffer zone” around pedestrians and cars approaching abortion clinics.  Her clients included the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters, the Abortion Access Project of Massachusetts, and NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

In 2005, Jackson became an assistant federal public defender in Washington, D.C.  At her 2021 confirmation hearing, she drew a “direct line” between her work as a public defender and her later work as a trial judge, saying that she was “struck” by how little her clients understood about the legal process, and how she was determined to take “extra care” to ensure defendants were aware of what was happening to them and why. 

“I think that’s really important for our entire justice system because it’s only if people understand what they’ve done, why it’s wrong, and what will happen to them if they do it again that they can really start to rehabilitate,” she said. 

In 2010, President Obama nominated Jackson to serve as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she had previously worked as a staffer.  The Sentencing Commission was created by Congress in response to “widespread disparity in federal sentencing,” and during her tenure the commission worked to alleviate harsh sentences for drug crimes, allowing some people with crack-cocaine convictions to seek lighter sentences.  

President Obama nominated Jackson to serve as a U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C, and she served seven years on that bench, ruling on over 550 cases ranging from reproductive rights to labor rights.  Her highest profile case was her ruling that Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel to President Donald Trump, was required to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.  President Biden nominated Judge Jackson to fill the vacancy on the D.C. Circuit left by Attorney General Merrick Garland, and three Republicans, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Lisa Murkowski, joined all Democrats in voting for her. 

Leondra Kruger 

California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, who is just 45 years old, would be the youngest justice confirmed since Clarence Thomas joined the court at age 43.  

A native of Southern California, Justice Kruger is the daughter of two physicians. Her mother is from Jamaica while her late father was the son of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe.  She graduated with honors from Harvard, where she was a reporter for the Harvard Crimson, and went on to Yale Law School, where she was editor in chief of the Yale Law Review—the first Black women to hold that position.  After graduating Yale in 2001, she clerked for Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. 

Kruger spent six years in the solicitor general’s office, beginning in 2007, and argued 12 cases at the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government, and then moved on to serve as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel.  She twice received the attorney general’s award for exceptional service, for her work on teams that won the award for its work defending the Affordable Care Act, and for implementing the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. 

In 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown nominated Kruger to serve on the California Supreme Court.  Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said, “California, and the nation, could do no better than Leondra Kruger.”  She was confirmed by the state’s Commission on Judicial Appointments, whose members included Kamala Harris, then California’s Attorney General and became only the second Black woman to serve on the California Supreme Court. 

Her rulings have upheld the rights of the accused, from juvenile court to death-penalty cases, and last year, she wrote for the court in a unanimous decision holding that three athletes who allege they were sexually abused by a coach as teenagers can sue USA Taekwondo. 

Judge Kruger has been called the “Stephen Breyer of the California Supreme Court” for her reputation as a consensus builder.  Retired California Court of Appeals Justice J. Anthony Kline said, “People listen to her. She’s not bombastic.  She’s not confrontational.  She’s not highly ideological.  But she’s very analytical.  She’s very committed to law.” 

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