With the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, President Obama has a chance to make a lasting legacy upon the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court is now split with four conservatives and four liberals. With a lifetime appointment, there is an opportunity to impact our country for generations. And I urge President Obama to nominate an African American woman to the highest Court of the U.S.
I do not ask for appointment of an African American woman justice because there has never been one to sit on the bench in its history since 1789. I certainly do not ask because of any quotas that Justice Scalia spoke of in terms of African Americans. I do not ask because Justice Scalia would turn over in his grave. I do not ask because Black women voted higher than any other group to re-elect President Obama in 2012. I ask because the bench needs to further reflect the diversity of our country, in terms of women and Blacks. The nine member bench currently has three women. And when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was recently asked how many women will be enough sitting on the Supreme Court, her response was nine.
And while I understand some Republicans already vow to request the nomination and confirmation wait until after November Presidential election, an appointment cannot wait over a year. The next president will not be inaugurated until January, 2017. And for obvious reasons, a nomination would not likely occur with a new President until spring, 2017. Now is the time.
While some may argue that it will be impossible to get anyone appointed to the bench other than a staunch conservative to replace Justice Scalia, I argue to the contrary. I do note that it will be easier to get some persons through the confirmation process than others. For that reason, I will refrain from any dream team nominations suggested online by some folks such as Lanie Guiner or Anita Hill.
I offer the following three choices for the first African American Supreme Court Justice- U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, California Attorney Kamala Harris and Leah Sears Ward. These three women are prudent choices that might be able to make it through the Senate confirmation process. Attorney General Lynch was just recently vetted and confirmed. So the GOP already has her record. There are countless others who are qualified for the position.
Leah Ward Sears is an African American retired Georgia chief justice who made the White House short list in 2009. In 2005, Georgia’s Leah Ward Sears became the first African American woman to serve as chief judge of a U.S. court. Ivy League-educated, she rocketed to the Georgia bench in 1992, becoming the youngest and first woman to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court. Coming from a military upbringing, Sears is known as one who is not afraid to speak her mind in a conservative state, dissenting on all Georgia cases involving death by electrocution as unconstitutional and inconsistent with decency standards. Sears is not without some debate. Despite having mostly liberal views, her friendship with another Georgian, Justice Clarence Thomas would be problematic with some Democrats.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s greatest asset for nomination is that she has already been through the Senate confirmation process. Her term as Attorney General is one that will likely end with whoever is elected President in 2016.
And my number one choice is California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris is currently running to fill the Senate seat of Barbara Boxer. Prior to becoming Attorney General, she was elected in 2103 as District Attorney for San Francisco and formerly Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles. She is the first African American and South Asian America to become California Attorney General. A rising political star, Harris may not want the position of Supreme Court Justice. Some speculate that her eyes may be on the Presidency one day.
In the 227 year history of the Supreme Court, only four women have served. Of the eight remaining justices, only three are women and only one is African American. While I applaud President Obama’s selections of Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, there is more work to do in order for the nation’s highest court to reflect our nation’s rich diversity. Women make up 50 percent of the nation; shouldn’t more than three women be serving on the high court?
The President stated in 2009 that he wanted a justice with life experiences, high intellect and the empathy factor. “Experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune; experience insisting, persisting, and ultimately overcoming those barriers . . . is a necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the Supreme Court.” There are many suitable African American women lawyers and judges that would fit the President’s description.
I urge President Obama to select the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. For me, that would be President Obama’s lasting legacy.
UPDATE: 6th U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Bernie Donald would make also an impeccable choice. She was confirmed by a 96-2 vote in 2011.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a member of the Supreme Court bar and former prosecutor. She is frequently seen in the media on Al Jazeera America, BET, CBS, MSNBC, Sky News and Fox 5 DC. Her Op eds have appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Afro America. She is a native of Baltimore, MD.