Black Democrats to Obama: Pick Lynch for Supreme Court

Haiyun Jiang

Black lawmakers in Congress are urging President Obama to make history by nominating Attorney General Loretta Lynch to the Supreme Court.

Lynch, if confirmed, would become the first African-American woman to serve as a justice. She would also be the first African-American appointed by a Democratic president since Thurgood Marshall, an influential liberal who retired in 1991.

{mosads}Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) argue the court’s only African-American justice, Clarence Thomas, who was nominated by George H.W. Bush in 1991, doesn’t represent the interests of their constituents. 

“I would love to see him appoint Loretta Lynch. She’s already been vetted. She meets the criteria that he’s laid out. She would certainly be my recommendation,” said Elijah Cummings, a senior member of the CBC. 

Cummings noted that African-American women voters helped Obama win the presidency. 

“African American women have played a major role in our electoral process. They vote at a high rate,” he said.

Senate Republicans are vowing to oppose any Supreme Court nominee from Obama, saying this week that the person will not receive a hearing from the Judiciary Committee or even a meeting with top Republicans.

Democrats say Obama should ramp up the pressure on the GOP by picking a Supreme Court candidate who has attracted bipartisan support.

Black lawmakers argue that Lynch would fit the bill, noting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to confirm her as attorney general last year. 

Nine other Republicans also voted for Lynch, including vulnerable GOP incumbents facing reelection such as Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rob Portman of Ohio. 

“African-Americans across the country understand the significance of the Supreme Court,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), another member of the CBC. 

Cleaver said Obama should pick Lynch. 

“Probably more than anyone else, she would, with open minds, sail through the Judiciary Committee and onto the floor for a vote,” he said. 

Lynch also has won plaudits from former Republican New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who last year expressed his full confidence that Lynch would uphold the Constitution as attorney general. 

“As a Republican and looking at the Constitution, I find Loretta Lynch not only to be an acceptable appointment, but I find her to be an extraordinary appointment,” he said.

Lynch received her law degree at Harvard and served as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. One of her biggest cases was prosecuting members of New York City’s police force for brutally beating Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant.

At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has become a political force, her nomination would resonate with African Americans, Democrats say.

“The Supreme Court pretty much reflects America with that one exception. The way in which the president addresses this issue, frankly, could have an impact on turnout in the election,” Cleaver said. 

Reflecting that grassroots sentiment, the liberal group Democracy for America on Friday launched a petition calling for Obama to put a “woman of color” on the high court.

“After centuries of racial and gender exclusion, America has a lot of catching up to do. Since the creation of the Supreme Court in 1789, America has had 112 justices, and 106 have been white men,” the petition says, without specifically advocating Lynch. 

Despite her qualifications, Republicans did hold up Lynch’s nomination as attorney general, using it as leverage to pass a human-trafficking bill. 

And even though Lynch was confirmed with bipartisan support in a 56-43 vote, other potential Supreme Court candidates have passed the Senate by more overwhelming margins.

Jane Louise Kelly, of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Sri Srinivasan of the D.C. Circuit won Senate confirmation in 2013 by votes of 96-0 and 97-0, respectively. 

But black lawmakers argue that Lynch or another African-American jurist would have a unique perspective on some of the biggest legal issues of the day: racism, police brutality, the mass incarceration of African-American men and voting rights. 

“I think it’s important for him to nominate a candidate who is going to consider the legal interests of the African-American community. It would be great to have more diversity there,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a CBC member. “I think Loretta Lynch would be phenomenal.”

Lawmakers say African Americans lost an important voice on the court when Marshall stepped down and was replaced by Thomas, a staunch conservative.

President Lyndon Johnson praised Marshall at his 1965 swearing-in ceremony as someone at the legal vanguard to end discrimination in education, housing and voting.

“That perspective, the values that Thurgood Marshall brought to the court, are just extraordinary, and right now we do not have an African American that shares that crucial perspective, and it would be great to have someone like that on the Supreme Court,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau.

“It’s time for serious consideration to be given to a talented African-American jurist,” said Rep. Lacy Clay (R-Mo.), another member of the CBC.

“When you think about qualifications, [former Obama Attorney General] Eric Holder is the first one that comes to mind along with Loretta Lynch, who have both been through Senate confirmation,” he said.

Some Republicans have recently questioned Lynch’s impartiality in the investigation into whether Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton may have compromised classified material by using a private e-mail server.

Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) has called for Lynch to appoint a special counsel to avoid the possibility of “political considerations” interfering with a decision to launch a criminal investigation of Clinton.

Even if Republicans blocked Lynch, the Democrats argued her nomination would not be wasted because Clinton, if she wins the White House, could resubmit her name to Congress. 

“Under Hillary Clinton, we would have a good chance of getting a qualified African-American nominee through,” Clay said. “She could always re-nominate the person.” 

Lynch has proved much less of a lightning rod at Justice Department than Holder, her predecessor, who also enjoys support among black lawmakers. 

They would love to see Obama tap Holder for the high court, but acknowledge he has become too politically controversial despite his impressive legal résumé. 

“I would love to see Eric Holder on the bench, more than any other person I know on the planet,” Cleaver said. “I’m not sure that would not be seen by the other side as the president lobbing a hand grenade in their bunker.”

Tags Eric Holder Hillary Clinton John Cornyn Kelly Ayotte Mitch McConnell Rob Portman Ron Johnson

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