Unmask the Black Woman’s Voice: Why a Black Woman in the Supreme Court is Imperative for Progress
“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________ under the Constitution and laws of the United States; and that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Those sacred words are sworn by each Supreme Court Justice who serves this great nation. However, I wonder how we justify “respect to persons and do equal right to the poor and rich” when in essence, our Supreme Court has been flawed and dominated by white men since its founding.
There are few greater honors in this country than representing the American people, upholding the Constitution, and ensuring that all citizens receive equal justice under the law as an esteemed United States Supreme Court Justice. However, as the highest court in the country, and the final arbiter of the law, shouldn’t the elected Justices of the United States Supreme Court represent the diversity that makes America a melting pot of every race, religion, color, creed, and sexual orientation?
A court designed to defend the rights and liberties of ALL of the American people, should by design represent the people it is defending, should it not? It was not until August 1967 that Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man to serve as Supreme Court Justice was appointed — only 1 month after the Supreme Court voted interracial marriage Unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia.
The second Black man appointed to the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, succeeded Marshall in 1991 and still “serves” on the court today. The Supreme Court was founded in 1789. Think about that, in 233 years of the nation’s highest court, there have been 115 justices; only 2 justices have been African American, 4 have been white women, 1 Latina woman, and a staggering 108 have been white men. Take a minute to let those numbers soak in.
So, what does this say to Black women in America? It says, “your voice does not matter”. Now, upon the announcement of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, we are awaiting a pivotal turning point in American History. President Joe Biden has made a promise to nominate a Black woman as the next Supreme Court Justice — the first Black woman to hold her rightful seat in the Supreme Court.
However, President Biden’s promise has once again made waves and enraged the conservative party as radicals rush to dispute the promise, calling it offensive, unprecedented, and unnecessary. Who is leading this debate? None other than Senator Ted Cruz who stated the following on his podcast:
“The fact that he’s willing to make a promise at the outset that it must be a Black woman — I gotta say, that’s offensive, Black women are, what, 6% of the U.S. population? He’s saying to 94% of Americans: ‘I don’t give a damn about you. You are ineligible.’”
So essentially what Senator Cruz and the Republican Party are saying, is that “we only care about white people, because white privileged people are the majority — forget the Black, Latino, Asian and minority communities, they don’t count.”
Any American hearing or reading that statement should be enraged with the blatant racism and misogyny proudly perpetuated by the conservative party. This is the ideology we allow in the Senate? That Black women are inferior and do not deserve to have their voices heard and someone represent them in the highest court in the nation?
Let me remind Senator Cruz and the conservative party that their former favorite President, before Trump, Ronald Reagan made a similar promise in the '80s when he nominated Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman to serve in the Supreme Court. While Reagan I’m sure was met with his fair share of naysayers, he chose to do what is right and choose a qualified woman to represent all women, despite a list of dozens of qualified white men who had probably grown up with a silver spoon in their mouths and had been privileged from birth.
The New York Times’ Walter Dellinger outlined it beautifully in his column,
“As others have recently noted, Reagan made a campaign promise similar to Mr. Biden’s over 40 years ago: to name the first woman to the Supreme Court. (Some suggest that Reagan’s pledge is different because he had a “list” that included men. Of course, he did. The administration’s conservative activists urged on him the names of conservatives such as Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia. But Reagan was steadfast: He promised a woman and he nominated a woman.) … Some will suggest that Mr. Biden will be choosing from a smaller set of potential nominees than Reagan did when he determined to choose Justice O’Connor from half the population. That point fails to account for the scarcity of female lawyers when Reagan made his commitment. The prime age for Supreme Court nominees is between 45 and 60 years old. That meant that Reagan was choosing from among those who entered law schools between roughly 1943 and 1958. In 1958, 3.1 percent of law school students were women. (In 2020, women made up 54 percent of law students in the United States.)”
He goes on to say so profoundly, “Paying attention to demographics can strengthen, not weaken, the judiciary.”
Regardless of political affiliations, President Ronald Reagan made history, and now it is President Biden’s turn. These milestones to diversify our courts, our Congress, and everything in between, are essential to the progress of this country. We as a society cannot move forward if we hold true to racist and misogynistic ideologies that harm women, especially women of color.
Presidents throughout history have noticed the flawed discriminatory system, and some have done a small part to at the very least recognize that. President Biden has a unique opportunity here to not only recognize it but begin to dismantle it for the betterment of the country and society as a whole. Not to mention, this would be a monumental moment of redemption, growth, and promise to make up for past mistakes as a Senator. When President Biden served as a Senator during the Bush Administration, he voted against the President’s nomination of Judge Janice Rogers Brown to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
For someone who has been in politics for decades, inevitably, you will make mistakes. No doubt he’s a changed man from one decade ago -- and was monumental in us the nomination of our first Black woman as Vice President, but we cannot stop there. This is a mistake we as a society cannot afford to make. Given the current landscape of our country, race is at the forefront of top issues — let alone legal issues. These justices are making decisions on the very topics impacting marginalized communities every single day. Selecting another white individual tells Black girls everywhere that they will never be able to be one of the top lawyers in the country, that the issues they face don’t matter, and that the only agenda is the white agenda.
Yes, the Republicans still hold an edge in the court with a significant number of justices identifying as conservative, but this is bigger than politics. This is taking a stand for diversity and equity in the highest court, in one of the most powerful nations in the world. This is about shifting perspectives and power. This is about progress.
Let me emphasize I wholeheartedly agree that we have to select someone qualified for the job, — there is no reason why that qualified individual cannot be a Black woman. In 2022, women make up more than half of law students in this country, and women of color make up 20% of that demographic. Nine percent of all attorneys in this country are Black women, there is no shortage of candidates. Two highly respected and accomplished women come to mind — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court. So the usage of “most qualified” is certainly their dated narrative to perpetuate that we, as black women, aren’t qualified. That tide has shifted. They are no longer qualified. They are irrelevant and lack foresight for justice. It is time. For Black Women. Period.
It is time to show women, Black women, our children, the patriarchy — and the world that we are a country dedicated to progress and unwaveringly committed to creating a more diverse and equitable court system to fight for God-given rights of ALL Americans.