Congressional Black Caucus to meet, plot its strategy for Supreme Court nod

The Congressional Black Caucus plans to meet this week to plot its strategy for the upcoming Supreme Court nomination.

Caucus chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has urged President Barack Obama to consider a minority or woman candidate to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. In a statement earlier this month, Lee said it was “essential that President Obama consider gender and ethnic diversity on the high court in an increasingly diverse America.” At an appropriations hearing last week, Lee also tangled with Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s sole African-American jurist, over the lack of diversity among its clerks.

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Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is leading the caucus’s approach to judicial nominations. She told The Hill that she would recommend that the caucus “take no position on a specific name yet.” She added, however, that “the caucus should be concerned if we get a nominee that appears to be considerably less progressive than the retiring Justice Stevens.”

The caucus appears to be adopting a lower profile in the selection process after a number of members floated the name of one of their own, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), last year for the seat that ultimately went to Sonia Sotomayor.

Still, several members said they would be watching the process closely.

“We have more than a passing concern,” Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) told The Hill, while adding that he was not pushing a specific candidate.

Just one of the 10 or so candidates that Obama is believed to be considering is African-American: Leah Ward Sears, the former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

Although Sears’s name escaped Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) in an interview, the California congresswoman referred to her as a promising contender. “An African-American woman would be a welcome addition to the Supreme Court,” Waters said. Sears, she said, “appears to be competent and prepared to serve.”

Sears, 54, served as the top judge in Georgia from 2005 to 2009 before returning to private practice in Atlanta. She was the first woman to serve on the court when she was first appointed in 1992. Her friendship with the conservative Thomas, another Georgia native, could help win over Republicans in a Senate confirmation battle, although it could also rankle liberals.

Norton emphasized that the CBC does not only endorse African-American nominees. She said Sears was someone who should be given a close look. The three most frequently mentioned front-runners are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Judge Diane Wood and Judge Merrick Garland.

“I don’t see anyone on there who’s unacceptable,” Norton said, reflecting the view of several House liberals who have praised the list of candidates circulating around Washington.

Garland, a member of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is considered the most centrist of the leading names and a potential nominee who would draw little resistance from conservatives. Norton said he would not be her personal choice, but noted that she was not speaking for the caucus. She said there were a few names “that are concerning to me” on the wider list that Obama is said to be considering, but she declined to cite them before briefing the caucus.