The following is Part II of an article contributed by Atty. Ayanna D. Hawkins. In observance of Women’s History Month, again, I thank Atty. Hawkins for highlighting some of the qualifications and contributions of Black women in the legal profession in America.
BLACK WOMEN ARE QUALIFIED FOR ANY AND EVERY LEGAL POSITION!
The contention that affirmative action casts doubt on the accomplishments of potential recipients mischaracterizes how white women have benefitted more than members of every other historically marginalized racial or ethnic group. This has been illustrated twice with respect to past Supreme Court vacancies. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan tapped Sandra Day O’Connor to serve on the Court in fulfillment of a campaign pledge. In 2020, President Donald Trump explicitly nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett in fulfillment of a similar pledge to appoint a qualified woman.
None of these three Senators withheld their support or raised any objections to Justice Barrett because of her race or gender. Furthermore, when then-candidate Trump released a list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court in May of 2016 (for the vacancy President Obama was prevented from filling upon the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia), all of those named were white. President Trump nominated only two Black women to the federal bench of the 234 vacancies he filled; yet none of these Senators decried the lack of diversity in those selections.
Senators Cruz and Kennedy who both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have typically voted against the nominees put forth by President Biden. Partisan and ideological differences are usually offered as the reason for opposing an otherwise qualified nominee. Senator Cruz, who went so far as to accuse President Biden of racism in his ideological opposition to the nomination of Judge Janice Rogers Brown in 2003, voted against all eleven of the Black women already confirmed. Additionally, at no point during the previous Administration did Cruz advocate for Judge Brown’s name to be considered for the Supreme Court.
It is not affirmative action that minimizes and marginalizes the accomplishments of Black women in the legal profession. It is racism and sexism. It is the inference that our career opportunities are somehow undeserved. It is ignoring the fact that each candidate under consideration for this vacancy will have similar qualifications and experience as the other current Justices on the Court. It is failing to acknowledge that until Thurgood Marshall’s nomination in 1967, most of the white male Justices were chosen for their political connections. Several justices served in all three branches of government, with the Court serving as the final career capstone: i.e., Chief Justice William Howard Taft (1857-1930), after serving as the 27th President of the United States; and Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891-1974), after serving as the 30th Governor of California and failing to secure his party’s nomination for President in 1948 and 1952.
When Pauli Murray wrote to President Richard Nixon and asked to be considered for the vacancy created by the retirement and death of Justice Hugo Black (1886-1971), it was probably ignored as incredulous. Until President Bill Clinton doubled the number of Black women chosen to serve on the federal bench, only three were appointed between 1981 and 1992. The issue has not been that Black women fail to qualify, but that those in power fail or refuse to consider Black women for available vacancies. A Black woman in that seat won’t undo historical atrocities or systemic racism, but she’ll have a vote. One vote can save our democracy. Her voice will speak to future generations and form the basis of how the law will be interpreted. Who knows what long-term impact she will have on the Court?