South Carolina District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs has bipartisan support to become the next justice on the US Supreme Court, but past cases against workers could cloud her shot.
With President Joe Biden confirming that he will keep his campaign promise of nominating a Black woman to the US Supreme Court, South Carolina District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs has made fast headway as a potential pick.
She is the only candidate the White House has mentioned by name as a possible replacement for retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, and powerful South Carolina lawmakers like Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat, and the GOP’s Sen. Lindsey Graham have voiced support for her.
A look at Childs’ background reveals an unquestionable work ethic—she once drew up an emergency order at Christmas, two days before giving birth. Her education in state schools and experience in local government sets her apart from many of her peers. And the fact that then-President Barack Obama nominated her in 2009 to her current post doesn’t hurt either.
Meanwhile, Childs’ work on the bench shows that she preceeded the Supreme Court’s recognition of same-sex marriage with a 2014 ruling, Bradacs v. Haley, which helped end South Carolina’s ban. And in 2020, she tossed out a South Carolina law requiring a witness to sign mail-in ballots, which could have suppressed votes at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court later reversed her ruling.
Childs’ biggest liability, however, appears to be her record on labor. She spent eight years practicing at a prestigious South Carolina law firm, primarily defending employers against allegations of racial and sexual discrimination, civil rights violations, and union breaking. In all but two of 25 registered cases, she defended the corporations.
Supporters say this doesn’t reflect Childs’ work defending employees during mediation, in cases that settled out of court. But earlier this year, she dismissed a case brought by a worker under the Civil Rights Act; the employee had alleged sexual harassment and unlawful termination for reporting it.
Childs’ track record has large labor organizations pulling away, arguing other choices would better fit the Biden administration’s inclination for putting public defenders and civil rights lawyers on the federal bench.
“President Biden can pass on a management-side lawyer like Childs, who has argued disdainfully against workers’ rights in favor of several other candidates who have … a proven record of upholding worker rights,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told Washington Post.
Biden is expected to announce his nominee for the Supreme Court by the end of February.