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Frontrunners emerge to replace Supreme Court Justice Breyer

Biden could fulfill a campaign promise giving the court its first Black female justice

President Joe Biden will get a shot at a coveted executive duty — appointing a Supreme Court justice — and his choice could be historic if he follows through with a promise to nominate the court’s first Black female justice. 

Once reports leaked that Justice Stephen Breyer — the court’s oldest liberal — would be stepping down from the bench at the end of the term, focus immediately shifted to who was next. While speculation over nominees is always rampant, this time around court watchers are expecting Biden to make history. 

During the 2020 campaign, Biden promised that his first nomination to the court could be a Black woman, and on Wednesday the White House confirmed that he would follow through on that promise. 

The White House has not released any official information about who Biden wants to nominate but speculation from experts puts three women on the shortlist. 

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

Judge Jackson has emerged to some as the frontrunner to replace Breyer. Jackson — Breyer’s former law clerk — was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit by a 53-44 vote in June 2021. She is a Harvard law graduate and former public defender. Jackson was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2013 by Barack Obama. 

If nominated, Jackson could serve decades on the court since she is only 51. 

During her confirmation hearings in June, Jackson earned ire from Republicans for insisting she doesn’t have a constitutional interpretation. 

Jackson has made headlines for her work on the district court when in 2019 she ruled that former White House counsel Don McGahn would have to testify in impeachment hearings. 

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“Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote. “This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.” 

Justice Leondra Kruger

An associate justice on California’s Supreme Court, Kruger, could also provide Biden with a lasting appointment. At just 45 years old, Kruger would be the youngest justice on the court and the youngest justice confirmed since Clarence Thomas. 

Kruger served in the Obama Justice Department as assistant to the solicitor general and acting deputy solicitor general where she argued 12 cases before the justices. 

In a 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kruger said her approach to the law focuses on precedent. 

“My approach reflects the fact that we operate in a system of precedent,” Kruger said. “I aim to perform my job in a way that enhances the predictability and stability of the law and public confidence and trust in the work of the courts.”

Judge J. Michelle Childs

Childs — who is 55 — was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Biden in December and has a confirmation hearing for that position next week. She was previously a judge on the U.S. District Court for South Carolina and a state circuit judge. 

As a previous commissioner on the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission and deputy director of the division of labor at the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Childs has expertise in labor and employment law. 

Childs — a favorite of South Carolina Democrat James E. Clyburn — would provide another diversifying factor for Biden, someone with a blue-collar background. Childs did not go to an Ivy League university, instead hailing from the University of South Carolina. 

In 2020, Childs made headlines when she struck down a rule requiring mail-in absentee ballots to be signed by witnesses for the presidential election.

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In this Wednesday, April 28, 2021, file photo, Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations, on Capitol Hill in Washington.