The process is underway to choose a replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement last week. This move gives President Biden his first opportunity to nominate a new Justice, who needs to be confirmed by a simple majority vote in the Senate. While campaigning for president, Biden promised to nominate the first ever Black woman to the Supreme Court — a promise that Biden affirmed following Breyer’s announcement.
In response to Biden’s commitment to nominating a Black woman, right wing politicians and pundits have predictably taken up racist positions in opposition to the promise. In an amazing display of ignorance and irony, Ted Cruz called it “offensive” and took issue with the fact that it deems other people “ineligible” based on race and gender. He even went so far as to say that it tells anyone who isn’t a Black woman that Biden doesn’t “give a damn” about them, but claimed that the commitment is somehow simultaneously “insulting” to Black women.
Another conservative, Senator Roger Wicker, scoffed that Biden’s plan to nominate a Black woman Justice was a form of affirmative action, as though centuries of reserving such positions exclusively for white men was not also a conscious policy. Racist statements like those made by Cruz and Wicker assume that, by virtue of her race, Biden’s nominee will be unqualified or otherwise inferior to a nominee who is white — and preferably a man. However, they hide their racism behind the facade of calls for “fairness” or “racial blindness.”
At the same time, for Biden and the Democrats to act like nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court is a radical move in the fight for Black liberation, or somehow makes them anti-racist champions of civil rights, is laughable. During the course of Biden’s presidency thus far we have seen him and the Democratic Party leadership fail to enact legislation that would protect voting rights, fail to make any significant federal police reforms, and fail to pass the social program expansion that would have helped countless working-class people, many of them Black women.
In the face of all of these failures, the nomination of a Black woman to the Supreme Court, especially with a conservative supermajority of 6-3, is a far cry from being a major blow to the systemic oppression, racism, and white supremacy that are at the foundation of the capitalist system. The nomination of Breyer’s replacement has become a major political issue. However, the outcome is unlikely to have an impact on the balance of power thanks to the completely undemocratic practice of lifetime appointments to the Court — three of which were made by Donald Trump. Trading one liberal for another is hardly a major shake-up to the status quo.
Despite that, the people do have the power to influence decisions and make change through struggle, mass pressure and organization. When attacks on people’s rights are made, we can fight back and impact how the Supreme Court rules, regardless of who sits on the bench. We cannot rely on the elite — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — to prioritize human needs and make decisions for the benefit of the working class unless we demand it and give them no other options. Our only option is struggle, and the people’s movement is what will be decisive.