President Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate first Black woman to Supreme Court spurs student optimism


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

While some students are hopeful President Joe Biden will follow through on his promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, others expressed doubt about his intentions.

Astry Rodriguez, Reporter

Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement brought attention to President Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate the first Black female justice. Some Northwestern students and local professors are optimistic for Black and liberal representation on the Supreme Court, and expressed disappointment in the inflammatory conversations that have followed the announcement.  

Breyer will retire after working on the court for 27 years. The bench is currently 80% white and has a 6-3 conservative majority. If Biden selects a Black woman, she would be the third Black justice and sixth female justice in U.S. history.

Some students said Biden should consider age and ideology when nominating the new justice. McCormick freshman Herbert Botwe said he hopes the nominee is younger than the current justices, most of whom are older than 60.

“If there are more younger people, and it was more diverse, it would be great,” Botwe said. 

Weinberg freshman Raquel Weinstein added she prefers a left-leaning new justice.

“Numbers were swinging more conservatively for the Supreme Court, so I’m hoping that it will also be someone who is more left-winging (and) liberal,” Weinstein said.

SESP sophomore Yasmeen Rafee said some politicians have called the intentions of racial equity policies, including affirmative action, into question, but that intentionally appointing a Black woman to the court is essential.   

“This has brought some attention to affirmative action and the effectiveness of quotas for nominations of certain (racial) demographics,” Mohammed said. “(Politicians) see it as a form of affirmative action, which to them is unjustifiable. But to me, it’s unjustifiable that we don’t have a Black woman on the court already.”

Shakira Pleasant, professor of law at the University of Illinois Chicago, said she was disappointed by the inflammatory conversations on platforms like Twitter after the president’s announcement.

Pleasant said she was especially hurt by statements from people in authority positions such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who stated that Black women should be “insulted” by Biden’s pledge and that it is unfair to non-Black and non-female candidates who would be deemed ineligible for the position. 

“With the possibility of a Black woman (on the Supreme Court), you have (Black) people on the shortlist who also were Supreme Court clerks, who also are Harvard grads,” Pleasant said. “The discussion still is ‘they’re not qualified enough.’ That’s disheartening.”

Biden has nominated eight Black women to the U.S. Courts of Appeals, five of whom have been confirmed. 

Some students said they were hopeful about the future of diversity in the justice system if Breyer’s replacement is a Black woman. 

“I hope it does set a precedent of including more people of representation … different races, ethnicities and backgrounds, because the United States is full of many different people,” Communication freshman Drew Slager said. 

Pritzker Prof. Paul Gowder said more underrepresented voices should be in positions of power to provide a fair representation of U.S. demographics.   

He added appointing a Black woman would bring marginalized groups closer to the justice system. 

“For a lot of people, the law presents itself as an alien, hostile force,” Gowder said. “Having somebody on the court who can speak to more the opinion of those who aren’t the most hierarchically advantaged group in society might help counteract that some.”

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Twitter: @Astry_tpwk 

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