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Opinion | Biden Promised a Black Woman on the Supreme Court

The perception of Biden as a disappointment has been hardening among Black voters, the voters he needed to win in 2020 and the ones he would need again in 2024.

The Biden administration’s attempts to turn things around have not borne fruit. This is not to say Biden hasn’t had some big wins, particularly early in his term, but rather, that the losses loom large in recent memory, and they are continually piling up.

A Supreme Court opening offers Biden an opportunity to move beyond those losses, to change the conversation and the narrative, to emerge with a significant victory that he can hold up as proof of his success. It would put a major mark in the plus column.

No justice Biden nominates can change the ideological balance of the court significantly, but all new justices change the dynamic on the court. And every time an excluded group is included, that is good for the institution and its credibility.

It is important, I believe, that Black people have a Black person on the court more in tune with the views of the Black community than Clarence Thomas, the lone Black justice for the last 30 years. It has always struck me as a tragedy that Thomas was chosen to replace the liberal lion Thurgood Marshall.

Ideologically, it was like night and day, or night overtaking the day.

I remember knowing the name Thurgood Marshall for as long as I can recall knowing anything about the Supreme Court. As a child, I’m not sure I could have named another justice. As Biden suggested in South Carolina, representation matters, not just the skin of a person but also their soul.

Marshall’s entire life was spent in the service of, and for the liberation of, Black people.

We need a justice who considers the Constitution in a cleareyed way, as Marshall put it in 1987:

I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.

I hope that little Black girls — and all children — can know the pride and sense of belonging I felt when I saw Marshall or said his name. I saw myself when I saw him. I believed that my voice was being heard because he was relaying it.

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