Colleen Long and Mary Clare Jalonick
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will meet with Senate Judiciary Committee leaders on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court vacancy and the president's promise to nominate a Black woman to the high court. Aides said Biden's list of potential candidates is longer than three.
The White House also pushed back Monday on the idea that the president would be open to “gaming the system” by choosing a nominee solely based on her likelihood of garnering bipartisan support.
Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and ranking minority member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, will meet with Biden at the White House to go over potential nominees to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement last week. Biden himself served as head of the Judiciary Committee when he was a senator and presided over the confirmations of six high court picks, including Breyer.
“He's steeped in this process,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, “and looks forward to advice from members of both parties on the Hill as well as top legal experts and scholars across the country. I think you will see those consultations start this week."
Biden has said since his campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the nation's highest court and he personally interviewed a few of the nominees when they were under consideration for appointment to the federal bench. Some Republicans have already voiced support for U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs, who is a favorite of key Democratic ally South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn. But the White House pushed back on the idea of choosing a candidate just to get bipartisan support, saying Biden would chose the best woman for the job, period.
“The president is going to select a woman, a Black woman, who is qualified, who is prepared, who has impeccable experience to serve on the court. He's going to do that based on her credentials, of course having a discussion with her and not through gaming out the system," Psaki said.
The White House has yet to designate a official to shepherd the process. But White House officials expect top lawyers in the White House Counsel's office plus White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who has decades of experience working on nominees, to help in the selection process. Biden has pledged a pick by the end of February.
On Monday, Durbin said he wanted a speedy confirmation but did not want to arbitrarily rush the process. He said he does not want to put his “thumb on the scale” in talks with Biden, but having a nominee who is a sitting judge “makes the argument more credible” as he is reaching out to Republicans.
Durbin, who is serving his fifth term in the Senate, has been having conversations with GOP senators who he thinks could potentially vote for a Biden nominee. He said his list is “longer than you would imagine,” partly because of his longstanding relationships with Republicans on the Judiciary panel and elsewhere.
A bipartisan vote, he said, “is not only good for the Supreme Court, but it’s good for the Senate.”
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reiterated that “the Senate will have a fair process that moves quickly so we can confirm President Biden's nominee to fill Justice Breyer's seat as soon as possible.”
Among the nominees under consideration are Ketanji Brown Jackson, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, U.S. District Court Judge Wilhelmina Wright from Minnesota and Melissa Murray, a New York University law professor who is an expert in family law and reproductive rights justice.
Childs, who has been nominated to the same appeals circuit where Jackson presides, is Clyburn's choice. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both of South Carolina, have both expressed support for Childs.
“I can’t think of a better person for President Biden to consider for the Supreme Court than Michelle Childs,” Graham said Sunday on CBS. “She has wide support in our state.”
Breyer, 83, will retire at the end of the term. Any nominee by Biden won't affect the balance of the Supreme Court, which tips 6-3 in favor of conservatives after President Donald Trump put three justices on the court.