“I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a Black woman on the Supreme Court, to make sure we, in fact, get every representation,” then-candidate Joe Biden promised. That was way back in the before times, in the South Carolina debate last February. Now poised to fulfill that promise as president-elect (when a vacancy opens), Biden needs a Senate that will do it. One that doesn’t have Mitch McConnell as majority leader.
That means getting Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate and ending McConnell’s stranglehold on that body. Certainly if there is any hope at all of expanding the courts to dilute the polluting effects of Trump and McConnell—admittedly a real long shot now—the Democrats must have the majority. But even for a Supreme Court that finally looks a little like America, the Court Biden says he wants, Georgia is the key. “The lesson that we learned from the recent Supreme Court nominations is that Mitch McConnell’s rule around judges is power,” National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves told Irin Carmon at New York magazine. “That is the only operating theory. And that is terrible for the country.”
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But did Biden really mean it? By all accounts, yes. His shortlist is already in the works to be ready by Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021. There are two candidates whose names are circulating most among the legal insiders Carmon spoke with: “California State Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and federal district court judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former clerk to the oldest current Supreme Court justice, Stephen Breyer.” They are both young in their mid-40s, and have exemplary experience and credentials.
“When you think about the African American community and communities of color, we are fighting for our lives,” says Kim Tignor, who advises the advocacy group Demand Justice. She’s also a co-founder of the She Will Rise initiative for the group. “Part of it is about capacity. There’s a barrier to understanding just how close the Supreme Court is to our lives,” she says about the group’s work and the criticality of a Black woman on the highest court of the land. “It’s understandable that the Supreme Court just feels like a long game,” Tignor says. “One of the things I wanted to do with She Will Rise is to make these connections with Black communities. You want to have a conversation about police reform? Let’s talk about the doctrine of qualified immunity.”
That means taking the discussion about control of the Senate in the Georgia run-off elections beyond the Democrats vs. Republicans political frame to what it means for Black lives. Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter in Atlanta, told The Guardian that the court is particularly salient in this race. “It can’t just be about we want to control the Senate. Somebody who’s not engaged is going to ask why they should care about that. We have got to say we’ve got to control the Senate because healthcare is on the line, because the Voting Rights Act is on the line, because racial justice and whether or not police officers and district attorneys are able to continue to get qualified immunity when they kill black folks, that’s on the line,” he said.
The first Black woman Supreme Court justice is on the line, and with that Black lives. Literally. Which of course brings us back to control of the Senate and the Ossoff and Warnock races. Who controls the Senate means everything for the country.