Inflation got elbowed out of headlines this week by a larger than expected jobs report, a successful raid that killed the leader of ISIS and lively reaction to President Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. For Democrats, it was a political rainbow.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the US economy added 467,000 jobs in January, far exceeding expectations. BLS also revised job growth in the last two months of 2021, ending the year with 6.6 million additional jobs despite the ongoing battle with the coronavirus. It was enough for Biden to take a celebratory lap at the White House to tout the news.
Earlier this week, Biden took to a podium to announce US special forces raided the outpost of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who ignited a bomb killing himself and his family after a short gunfight. An ISIS lieutenant in the same outpost was shot. Biden complimented the precision of the operation, which took months to plan and offered a contrast to the chaotic US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer.
However, the week’s biggest buzz was generated by leaks of potential Black women nominees to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Stephen Breyer who is retiring in June. Filling vacant high court seats has become more partisan since Breyer’s nomination by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Breyer was confirmed by an 87 to 9 vote in the Senate.
Since then, four of the seven confirmed justices received 60 percent of Senate votes and only 10 percent of the opposing party’s votes, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. Political observers note there are only two GOP senators and one Democratic senator who regularly vote for nominees regardless of who nominated them.
The last three nominees, who were picked by President Donald Trump, are a case in point. Neil Gorsuch received only two Democratic floor votes. Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett received none. Democrats voted against Gorsuch because his nomination came after Senate Republicans stonewalled the nomination of Merrick Garland in the last year of President Obama’s second term. They opposed Barrett’s nomination, which occurred in the last year of Trump’s first term.
Biden’s affirmation he will keep his campaign pledge to name the first Black woman to the Supreme Court has touched off a debate raging far beyond Capitol Hill.
Divisive issues also play into Senate voting. Republicans have made it a political priority to shift the Supreme Court toward more conservative views, including abortion, voting rights and campaign finance. The court now has a 6-3 conservative makeup. Breyer is part of the liberal wing of the court, so his replacement won’t shift the current ideological balance.
Political polarization has crept into the confirmation process itself. Frustrated by GOP objections to Obama appointments to federal judgeships, the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed Senate rules to allow judicial confirmations by simple majorities. His Republican successor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell amended the rule change to apply Supreme Court nominees, which was how Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett were confirmed.
Senate Democrats, with a precariously slim majority, cannot afford to lose any Democratic vote in confirming Biden’s nominee, who is expected to be named by the end of this month. Biden’s affirmation he will keep his campaign pledge to name the first Black woman to the Supreme Court has touched off a debate raging far beyond Capitol Hill. Some Republican senators have questioned the credentials of such a choice, even though no one has been nominated. McConnell warned Biden not to surrender his choice to the “far left”.
Biden’s decision has been praised, especially by prominent Black women who constitute one of the most reliable voting blocs for Democratic candidates and played a critical role in reviving Biden’s flagging presidential candidacy in 2020 in the South Carolina primary.
One of the architects of that turnaround is Congressman James Clyburn who is openly championing the nomination of US District Judge J. Michelle Childs of South Carolina. Biden had already nominated Childs for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. That nomination has been quietly put on hold in the Senate pending Biden’s choice for the Supreme Court. The White House confirmed Childs is one of the candidates under consideration.
Previous speculation centered on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who sits on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Another top contender is California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger. Other names have been circulated, but the choice appears to be between Childs, Jackson and Kruger. That could change subject to the rigorous interview process that accompanies Supreme Court justices and, more than ever, their ability to withstand public grilling. Former Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama has been selected as the eventual nominee’s “Senate Sherpa”.
In the end, Childs may have the winning combination. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has made public statements supportive of Childs. South Carolina’s other senator, Tim Scott, who is Black, may have reasons to vote to confirm Childs, too. The way the Senate operates today, two votes from the opposing party can be like money in the bank.