September 29, 2022

Blog @ Munaf Sheikh

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Futurism: What Stephen Breyer’s retirement means for the future of the Supreme Court

I’ve always been of the assumption that if you don’t have diversity in your pool, then you’ve overlooked great candidates, and you therefore do not have the best pool that you could assemble. So to me, the absence of diversity actually signals the absence of quality in a pool.

I think it’s terrific that Biden has been broad in his outreach, and it’s important to underscore that the diversity he’s bringing to the federal bench is not the sort of aesthetic diversity I think people immediately think of. He’s looking at diversity of professional experience.

Prior to his administration, most presidents had appointed judges who came from prosecutorial backgrounds or from large law firms. He’s really brought people into the fold who would not have been considered before, but who have really important experiences given the docket of the federal court. So there are public defenders, there are labor lawyers, there are civil rights lawyers. These were people that I think in past administrations would not have gotten a shot, but they are excellent and they deserve to be considered, especially given the breadth of work that the federal courts cover.

Now what is unique about this particular opportunity is that Black women are an incredible part of Joe Biden’s success story as a president. He really rose to the presidency on the backs of Black women who supported him even when he was not the frontrunner in the Democratic field.

I think it’s terrific that he’s chosen to recognize the impact that Black women play in our democracy by insisting on representation at all levels of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. The nomination is obviously historic because there has never been an African American woman to serve on the court, though there have been two African American men and one Latina.

But I think that kind of representation is important at this moment when the Supreme Court is taking up a number of hot-button issues that affect the Black community—and Black women—in really important ways, whether it is reproductive rights or gun rights or affirmative action.

Currently the perspective of the Black community on the court is reflected in the words and writings of Justice Clarence Thomas, and I think that runs the risk of presenting the Black community as a monolith. It’s really important that we underscore that there might be multiple ways of viewing some of these issues within a single community, and perhaps having that representation is important. Of course, the court itself could still be more diverse, so this is a great start.

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