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Biden may fulfill a campaign promise to Black voters with his Supreme Court nominee


Black women are often called the backbone of the Democratic Party - the type of reliable voters that can make or break a candidate. And an overwhelming majority supported President Biden during his presidential bid. An estimated 93% voted for him in 2020. So it's little surprise that earlier this week, the president reiterated a key promise that he made on the campaign trail.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It's long overdue in my view.

SUMMERS: Joining me now to discuss the president's various commitments to Black voters are Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color of Change. Hey, good morning.

ARISHA HATCH: Good morning.

SUMMERS: And Nse Ufot, the executive director of the New Georgia Project. Welcome to you.

NSE UFOT: Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Arisha, let's start off with you. So Biden initially made the promise to nominate the first Black woman to the court back in 2020. As we remember, it was right before voting began in South Carolina for that state's primary. And he was struggling to stay afloat. What was your reaction when President Biden recommitted to that as he looks to fill Justice Stephen Breyer's post?

HATCH: I was certainly happy to see that he decided to fulfill his promise. And more important than that, he has to not only nominate someone, but he has to get that person through what's likely to be a difficult confirmation process.

SUMMERS: Now, among the women being considered to replace Justice Breyer are California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, South Carolina Judge J. Michelle Childs and Federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Arisha, why does it matter so much to have a Black woman on the Supreme Court?

HATCH: It's important, first, because it's never been done, and it's important that we have courts that reflect and represent the country that we are living in. And so to not have the perspective of a Black woman or a Black person who has progressive values in that space, we see the impact of that on the decisions that are made and the policies that are rolled out, as well as the culture that we live in.

SUMMERS: Nse, I'll pose the same question to you. Why is this so important?

UFOT: I mean, I think that it's super important because at this particular time when Congress is broken, there's going to be an increased demand on our courts to hold the line on the rights that Americans have fought for and won up to this point. You know, we are in deep community with people who are deeply concerned about Roe v. Wade no longer being the law of the land by the end of the year. We are living through an unprecedented attack on voting rights, or at least in my lifetime. And so having the sort of demographic, the experiential, the ideological diversity that is reflected in our country be reflected on the court is super important.

SUMMERS: Nse, you lead one of the biggest voter engagement groups in the state of Georgia that was key to Democrats winning the state for Biden and capturing both Senate seats in 2020. What are you hearing from Black voters on the ground about the president's records and achievements?

UFOT: There have definitely been conversations about sort of disappointment - and not necessarily disappointment. But when will the president and when will the administration make good on their promise to have Black Americans' backs? And so this announcement of Justice Breyer's retirement and President Biden making good on his promise - his campaign promises - could not have come at a better time.

SUMMERS: Arisha, what do you think about that? Has the president made progress on issues that Black voters care about? And what are you looking for as you assess his record in the months leading up to the midterms?

HATCH: Yeah, I think it's a little bit of a mixed bag. When we talked to Black voters before the election, when we talked to our Black members - they were voting for a competent response to the pandemic. They were voting for someone who would lift the student loan debt that they were being pounced on by. They were looking for someone that would take a look at voter freedom and criminal justice reform. And certainly in some of those places, we've seen progress that - all the progress that we want to see for our people.

One of the biggest frustrations that I've heard Black people discuss is, you know, Biden sort of ran as a candidate who said he has the capacity to get in there with Republicans, make deals with Manchin and Sinema. And we really just haven't seen that play out or come to fruition on some of the biggest issues that we care about. And so there are lots of folks that remain in need, remain in trouble and need Democrats especially to figure out how we build a functioning government given the culture and the attitudes of the right wing in this country at this moment.

UFOT: You know, when we look at, you know, municipal governments and state governments as innovation labs, these terrible laws, these terrible policies often come out on a state level. And people are subject to the indignity of whatever awful conditions they create, right? If it's Georgia's $5.15 minimum wage, if it's all of these states with trigger laws that as soon as Roe get struck down, they automatically ban abortion. These happened on the state level. And so we often are, again, having to suffer through terrible conditions before it makes its way through, you know, district courts, appeals courts and the Supreme Court. And so again, I want to temper people's expectations again. I think that this is good for the president and good for the administration because this is an example of them walking it like they talk it. And those examples have been few and far between in the past 12 months, right? But I want to caution all of us that there are a bunch of hypocritical, anti-democratic, racist, sexist legislators, particularly in the United States Senate that will - are the hurdle, if you will, a hurdle that we are going to have to clear before realizing this appointment.

SUMMERS: That was Nse Ufot, the executive director of the New Georgia Project, and Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color of Change. Thanks to you both.

HATCH: Thank you.

UFOT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.