Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his plans to retire from Wednesday (Jan. 26) after serving for 27 years. With his departure comes President Biden’s first chance to place a justice on the high court’s bench. During his campaign, he pledged to put a Black woman in the position should it become available. During the official announcement on Thursday (Jan. 27), he confirmed that he intends to do just that.
People watching the president expect him to make good on his promise, which will likely find him placing a liberal judge to replace Breyer. “With the reported retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, who has served the court with honor and dignity for nearly three decades, I am confident that the President will follow through on this promise,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement.
There are a number of Black women in visible legal positions throughout the United States, and speculation is high as to who will make Biden’s shortlist. Here are five who could be considered to be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice, and if nominated and confirmed by the Senate, would be the first Black woman to do so.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit
Jackson formerly served as a law clerk to the retiring Justice Breyer. Since then, she served as a Vice Chair and Commissioner on the United States Sentencing Commission.
She made a name for herself at firms specializing in white-collar criminal defense and settlement of mass-tort claims. She also served as an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the appeals division of the Office of the Federal Public Defender in the District of Columbia before ultimately being commissioned as a United States Circuit Judge in June of 2021.
The Harvard Law School graduate was a supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review and also earned her undergraduate degree magna cum laude in Government from Harvard-Radcliffe College.
Leondra Kruger, Associate Justice, California Supreme Court
Prior to her current position, Kruger served in the United States Department of Justice as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. She also served during the Obama Administration as an Assistant to the Solicitor General and as Acting Deputy Solicitor General.
She received her bachelor’s degree with high honors from Harvard College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She received her J.D. from Yale Law School, and was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal. Following graduation, she served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens
While in private practice, Kruger argued 12 cases in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government. She was also a visiting assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School.
Eunice Lee, U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit
Taking her current position after serving as assistant federal defender in the appeals bureau of the Federal Defenders of New York, Lee was part of the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York, working with appeals clients of every type in the New York state justice system. She was also an adjunct assistant professor of clinical law at New York University School of Law from 2003 to 2019.
Another Yale Law School graduate, Lee graduated summa cum laude, from The Ohio State University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Leslie Abrams Gardner, U.S. District Court, Middle District, Georgia
President Barack Obama nominated Gardner in 2014, and she was approved unanimously by the Senate.
In December 2020, Gardner ruled that a pair of Georgia counties could not remove “targeted voters” from voting rolls, as counties across the state passed laws disenfranchising voters -- the majority of whom were Black. The Yale Law School grad is also the sister to voting rights activist and Georgia gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams.
J. Michelle Childs, U.S. District Court, South Carolina
Childs was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina in August 2010. Prior to that appointment, she served as a Workers’ Compensation Commissioner in the state and oversaw programs for various labor and wage issues.
Judge Childs earned a Master’s in Judicial Studies from Duke University School of Law, and holds both her J.D. and an M.A. in Personnel and Employment Relations from the University of South Carolina.
She currently serves as chair of the American Bar Association’s Judicial Division and Secretary of the American Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section.