D.C. delegate: Obama unlikely to pick African-American for Court

President Barack Obama is unlikely to name an African-American to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill the seat of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, and perhaps at all during his presidency, a black lawmaker who briefed the Congressional Black Caucus on judicial nominations said Wednesday.

 “We’re not sure this president is ever going to nominate another African- American to the court,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said.

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“He’s African-American. We’ve got someone who proposes to be African-American on the court,” Norton said, referring to the court’s lone black member, Justice Clarence Thomas, whose votes against affirmative action and other policies important to the black community have angered liberal African-Americans.

Two African-American women, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ann Claire Williams, are reportedly under consideration by Obama, but Norton signaled she does not expect either to be nominated. Norton is in charge of tracking judicial nominations for the black caucus, and she briefed members on Supreme Court and appellate court issues Wednesday.

The caucus is still examining nominees and probably will not recommend anyone before the president announces his pick, members said. Norton voiced concern Obama had “boxed himself in” by sticking to a timetable that would have the new justice in place by the time the court begins its term in October. The White House said it will make its nomination by May 26.

“We want to make sure he is not trimming his sails to get someone through the Senate,” Norton said, referring to reports that Obama does not want a prolonged confirmation fight.

If the president nominated a liberal candidate who sparked a partisan battle, Norton said, Democrats should tolerate a delayed confirmation, since the ideological balance of the court would not be changed by a vacancy. “Five-four and five-three is the same thing on the court. We’re still the minority,” she said.

Of the 10 or so candidates that the president is thought to be considering, the reported frontrunners are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood and Judge Merrick Garland. “None of them are unacceptable,” Norton said.

She said the caucus was concerned with nominations to the Court of Appeals as much as to the Supreme Court. Republican presidents, she said, had succeeded in stacking those courts with conservative nominees, necessitating more liberal judges as a counterbalance.