Former NC Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (center), was the first Black woman to serve as the top judge on North Carolina's high court. (Photo from Beasley campaign). Cheri Beasley
Former NC Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (center), was the first Black woman to serve as the top judge on North Carolina's high court. (Photo from Beasley campaign).

Biden made a campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to the US Supreme Court. This decision could have a ripple effect to benefit all Americans.

“I am committed that if I’m elected president and have an opportunity to appoint someone to the courts, I’ll appoint the first Black woman to the courts,” then-presidential candidate Joe Biden said during a March 2020 debate in Washington, D.C. “It’s long overdue.”

Here’s his chance. 

When Justice Stephen Breyer steps down from the Supreme Court at the end of his current term in October, Biden will be able to appoint a successor who could serve for decades. 

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Many are calling on Biden to honor his promise to nominate the high court’s first Black woman in 231 years. Of the 114 Supreme Court justices in U.S. history, all but seven have been white men.

“For our courts to work for all of us, they must look like all of us,” She Will Rise, a progressive organization advocating for the appointment of a Black woman Supreme Court justice, tweeted this week.

The group released a short list of qualified Black women for appointment last year. On it were Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Anita Earls, who currently serves on the state’s highest court. Both have a record of rights advocacy.

Beasley released a statement Wednesday afternoon thanking Breyer for his years of service. She also weighed in on the historic possibility.

“A vacancy on the Supreme Court presents an opportunity for President Biden to make good on his promise and nominate one of many talented, qualified African American women jurists… I firmly believe that our Supreme Court – like all institutions – must reflect the diversity of our nation.”

And he’s right. Federal judges make decisions that affect everyday life, from people’s livelihoods to healthcare and fundamental rights. Though appointed, not elected, they also protect the people as a check when the executive branch is out of whack, or gridlock paralyses the legislative branches. 

The court can also be a powerful tool for advancing the rights of marginalized people.

SCOTUS can: 

  • End qualified immunity for police officers, which shields them from prosecution for violating a person’s rights 
  • Enshrine Roe v. Wade’s protection of women’s right to abortioncare 
  • Protect and expand voting rights on a national level

A Black woman on the Supreme Court could contribute significantly to the quality of decisions and justice issued from the court, by bringing her lived experiences of the social and cultural impacts intersectional people face. A more comprehensive and empathetic perspective would be of benefit to all Americans. 

Biden’s administration has nominated eight black women to the U.S. Court of Appeals, with five of them being confirmed so far. The majority – 12 out of 13 – of the last confirmed Supreme Court justices were appointed from appellate courts.