UPDATE: Black Advocates Want SCOTUS Nominee Vetted
It’s not a secret that African-American leaders and advocates are “less than enthusiast” about U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland being President Obama‘s SCOTUS pick. Given his lackluster history on reproductive health, voting rights and justice reform, some are calling for Garland to be vetted, NBC recently reported.
This notion has been swirling around since the nomination was announced earlier this week and solidified on Friday during a Capitol Hill meeting between White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and the Black Caucus. The purpose was to discuss a range of topics including how to get Senate to not block Garland’s nomination and the Caucus’ concerns about POTUS’ pick. Only 10 members showed up.
NBC notes that Garland’s voting record on issues that impact African-Americans was also discussed, ushered in by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who leads the Black Caucus on judicial nominations. She admitted to stressing concern about a “2000 voting rights case in which Garland ruled against voting rights for Norton’s constituents.” While she told NBC that Garland should get a Senate hearing, he also needs to be vetted and she plans on spending time ” focus[ing] on Garland’s two decades on the bench.
While many Caucus members agree with Holmes that it’s ridiculous for the Senate to decline meeting with Garland, others were not as diplomatic about Jarrett’s “last minute” face-to-face with them. “The meeting was a waste of time. It’s after the fact,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings, who did not attend, NBC wrote.
Meanwhile, on March 17, Ben Crump, President of the National Bar Association (NBA), told radio host Joe Madden that while he believes Garland is qualified, they too need more time to examine Garland’s history of rulings, NBC noted. “Right now we believe he’s qualified but we still have to fairly evaluate him and vet him. We don’t know what his positions are on civil rights yet,” he said.
With President Barack Obama tapping Merrick Garland to fill Justice Scalia’s SCOTUS seat, many Black advocates and progressives have expressed their displeasure with POTUS for choosing this moderate judge to sit on our nation’s highest court.
Many hoped he would have strongly considered a nominee that reflected the racial, gender and progressive diversity of America.
One of those groups that conveyed their disdain was the Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR), an organization that focuses on Black women’s participation in politics. They recently sent President Obama a letter asking him to make history by nominating an African American woman to sit on our nation’s highest bench, NBC News reported.
Clearly, their request went unanswered. A Black woman wasn’t even on POTUS’ final list of three candidates, which were all men—two white and one Asian.
Led by Melanie Campbell, the BWR released a statement about Garland’s nomination:
“We are disappointed and had hoped that an African American woman would be nominated. We have and will continue to advocate for the next Supreme Court vacancy to be filled by an exceptional black woman to bring about a balance that ensures the court is more representative of all Americans,” Campbell said.
She added, “We continue to believe it is time for African American women to be represented in all sectors of government — including the U. S. Supreme Court of the United States, which in its 227 year history has not had a Black woman nominated to serve on the highest court in the land,” the release continued.
In their defense, it wasn’t as if POTUS didn’t have a lengthy list of qualified African-American women to choose from, especially since BWR sent him a comprehensive list to consider, NBC noted. He could have picked Leah Ward Sears (the first Black woman nominated to state Supreme Court), Kamala Harris (the first African American attorney general in California) and Deborah Batts (the first openly gay African American federal judge), U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (who took her name out of the running) or law professor Anita Hill to name a few.
Yet, he thought Garland was the best choice.
The BWR wasn’t the only org to have words for POTUS.
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization of Women (NOW), sent out a statement emphasizing the need for more gender diversity on the bench. Currently, only three women serve on the court: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan (the last two nominated by Obama).
“It’s unfortunate that President Obama felt it was necessary to appoint a nominee to the Supreme Court whose record on issues pertaining to women’s rights is more or less a blank slate. Equally unfortunate is that we have to continue to wait for the first African American woman to be named,” O’Neill said.
She also thew some shade adding, that “the highest court in the nation was a cipher—a real nowhere man.”
While Chief Justice Clarence Thomas is technically African American, many including Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), argue that there are no justices that reflect the needs and concerns of the Black community. “We simply do not have the African American point of view on the bench and we need that. I am also disturbed about the packing of the court with Harvard-trained lawyers,” Johnson said.
Also interesting is that none of the major civil rights organizations were notified by the White House that Garland was POTUS’ nominee, NBC noted. Yet, in their own statements, the NAACP, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund didn’t mention any discontent, only the need for the Republican-led Senate to not block POTUS’ nominee—an act they aggressively warned they would do if POTUS nominated anyone during this last year as President.
Perhaps this is why POTUS chose a more moderate nominee to appease the right and get his nominee voted in.
Either way, tensions are running high around Garland’s nomination and it makes sense–there is a lot at stake. Garland can be the vote that tips the scales on some pretty serious cases that can impact millions of Americans. According to Think Progress, immigration rights, abortion rights, affirmative action, global warming and even access to birth control could easily be cases brought before the Supreme Court in the near future.
How Garland will vote on those issues remains to be seen, as does whether his nomination will even be confirmed.