According to the Associated Press, on Jan. 27, it was announced that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring, giving President Biden his first court opening, which he has pledged to fill with a Black woman, the first in U.S. history.
“I was really excited because I think this is something that needs to be represented, especially within the justice system,” said junior Jaylah Bryant, president of the Black Student Union. “I feel like it enriches the system and promotes more confidence within the court and legitimizes it since there’s now someone from a diverse, different background.”
While gender and racial diversity in the Supreme Court has remained somewhat stagnant throughout history, it has more recently progressed with the additions of women, Black men, and Latina justices.
According to the Associated Press, “Of the 115 justices in U.S. history, there have been just five women, beginning with Sandra Day O’ Connor in 1981. One of the five, Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a Latina. Thomas and the late Thurgood Marshall are the only two Black men who have served on the court.”
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential principals,” said junior Olivia Delgado, president of the College Democrats. “A lack of proper representation can lead to negative biases and discrimination towards minority groups, especially in the justice system, where too often people are unfairly judged if they don’t fit a Eurocentric picture of innocence or value, so witnessing a figure of immense political influence, such as the President of the U.S., using his power to amplify the voices of Black women is absolutely incredible to me.”
With Justice Breyer said to retire in the summer, there have been five candidates under consideration, including Ketanji Brown Jackson, Judge Michelle Childs, Justice Leondra Kruger, Judge Wilhelmina Wright and Melissa Murray, according to the Associated Press.
“I think it’s even more amazing the fact that they’re considering four qualified applicants because in the past, we would have had like a hundred options of white males,” said senior Gabriela Dos Santos. “I think it’s great we have so many people qualified to take the job and also represent a lot of diversity.”
While some students are looking forward to Biden’s appointment, other students have concerns about the decision.
“I think by Biden specifically saying he’s going to consider someone within these specific groups of Black people and women is not a very good thing,” said senior Ryan Silverstein, president of the College Republicans. “You got picked, not because you were the most qualified but because you fit a certain demographic.”
“Considering the federal judiciary was designed to be full of independent and brilliant jurists, picking someone mainly because of the color of their skin and gender isn’t really the best idea and I don’t know if it would be super relevant to the decisions that these justices render,” said Silverstein.
Despite this, Dr. Gary Rose, professor and chair of the department, says that the introduction of the new judge will not make too much of a difference.
“Stephen Breyer’s vacancy will be filled by another liberal and it won’t make any difference at all in the way that the court will function, because there will still be six Republicans and three Democrats,” said Rose.
“There’s nothing new about putting people on the court for political reasons,” said Rose. “This has been going on for many years, almost since the court’s inception, but takes many forms. You can see old clips of Regan saying, ‘We are going to put women on the Supreme Court’ and put Sandra Day O’ Conner on there. Obama also felt like it was time for a Latina to be on the court, so he put Sonia Sotomayer on there. What separates Biden in this announcement is just how explicit it has been.”
While there are varying opinions on the matter, some students feel that the decision to choose a Black woman as justice will allow them to feel more represented.
“It kind of sets an example and can be seen as a role model for other people of different diverse backgrounds, like myself not being able to see a Black female, or really any females in general, in the Supreme Court system,” said Bryant. “I feel, especially for younger kids and children of diverse backgrounds, they’ll be able to see that and be like, ‘I see someone that looks like me.’”