By Ben Jealous
I am eager to see a brilliant Black woman serving as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. I hope to celebrate her swearing-in later this year.
If you’re thinking, “Did I miss something?” the answer is no, there is no vacancy on the Court right now.
But there has been talk that Justice Stephen Breyer, who is 82 years old, might step down after the current Supreme Court term ends in June.
Some activists and legal scholars are encouraging Breyer to step down now. That would give President Joe Biden a chance to fulfill his campaign promise to name a Black woman to the high court. And it would let a Biden nominee be considered by a Senate that is not controlled by Republicans.
Never forget that when Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell was majority leader, he abused his power to slow-walk President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees. And he refused to allow the Senate to even consider Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, leaving a seat vacant for more than a year.
That same Sen. McConnell did everything he could to pack the courts with right-wing judges during the Trump administration—including a third Trump Supreme Court justice who was rammed through the Senate just days before voters turned Trump out of office. Those Trump judges threaten the legal legacy of the first Black person to serve on the Supreme Court, the brilliant Justice Thurgood Marshall. And that threatens all of us.
As a Marylander with deep roots in Baltimore, I am proud that a native son of that great city was the first Black justice on our country’s highest court. As a lifelong civil rights activist, I am grateful that a strategist for the civil rights movement was given the opportunity to advance equality under law as a Supreme Court justice. As a Black man and father of Black children, I am thankful for the ways that Marshall changed history. And I am deeply committed to defending those changes at a time when they are under attack.
The threat to our lives, and to a multiracial, multiethnic democratic society, does not just come from violent white supremacists or abusive cops. It comes from Republican politicians whose response to high Black voter turnout in 2020 is to make it harder for many of us to vote. And it comes from judges who dismiss evidence of systemic racism and uphold voter suppression.
What better time to have a powerful Black woman on the high court as a voice for truth and accountability?
That is especially true now that another civil rights champion, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has left the court, and been replaced by a justice who does not share her values. We need someone to fill the shoes of both Marshall and Ginsburg, two of the most transformative lawyers in our nation’s history.
Fortunately, there are plenty of Black women who represent the values of the civil rights community and are ready to serve.
Black women lawyers are fighting for civil rights every day. Black women scholars are expanding our understanding of systemic racism and its impact on all of us. Black women strategists are defending voting rights. Black women activists are building coalitions and electing politicians who are committed to defending our rights and our communities.
Candidate Joe Biden demonstrated his recognition of the importance of Black women when he chose Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate. And he excited many of us with his promise to name a Black woman to the Supreme Court. The American people made Biden president and made Harris the first woman, first Black person, and first Asian American to serve as vice president.
I am looking forward to working with President Biden to confirm to the Supreme Court a phenomenal Black woman who will champion the values of freedom, justice, opportunity, and equality at a time when they urgently need champions.
It will be a relief to see her take her seat. And it will be glorious.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.