Biden Vows to Pick 'First Black Woman Ever Nominated' for Supreme Court Before March: 'Long Overdue'

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US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden

DREW ANGERER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden appeared alongside retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on Thursday and spoke about selecting a nominee to replace him.

"Our process is going to be rigorous. I'm going to select a nominee worth of Justice Breyer's legacy of excellent and decency," Biden, 79, said, before confirming that he will keep his campaign promise to pick a Black woman for a lifetime appointment to the high court.

Senate Democrats have said they will move quickly to fill the vacancy while the November midterm elections — and possible loss of control of Congress — loom.

"I will nominate someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity," Biden said Thursday. "That person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It's long overdue, in my opinion."

The president also spoke about how he will go about making his decision.

"I'm going to invite senators from both parties to offer their ideas and points of view," he said after pointing out that the U.S. Constitution directs a president with the "advice and consent" of the Senate.

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Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer

Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer

"I'll also consult with leading scholars and lawyers," he continued. "I'm also fortunate to have advising me in this selection process Vice President Kamala Harris. She's an exceptional lawyer, former attorney general of the state of California, a former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee."

Biden pledged to "listen carefully to all the advice I'm given" and to "study the records and former cases carefully."

The president also said he plans to meet with potential nominees, adding, "It's my intention to announce my decision before the end of February."

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His expectation after the announcement of his choice will be for the Senate to "move promptly" in confirming the nominee, he said.

"In the end, I will nominate a historic candidate, someone who's worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy and someone who like Justice Breyer will provide incredible service on the United States Supreme Court," he said.

Praise for Breyer and His Legacy

Biden opened his remarks by saying, "This is sort of a bittersweet day for me. Justice Breyer and I go back a long way."

While expressing gratitude on behalf of the nation for Breyer's service, he said it was an honor to vote to confirm him for the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980 and then to preside over the Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings as a senator in 1994. (Breyer was nominated by then-President Bill Clinton.)

"We were joking with one another when we walked in. 'Did you ever think he would have served decades on the court, and I'd be president of the United States on the day he came to retire?' " Biden said in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. "I was proud and grateful to be there at the start of his distinguished career at the Supreme Court and I'm very proud to be here today on the announcement of his retirement."

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Biden praised the justice — who has become the anchor of the court's liberal minority — as a "model public servant at a time of great division in this country" and for a legacy that includes "work as a leading scholar and jurist on administrative law, bringing his brilliance to bear to make government run more efficiently and effectively."

The president also noted that the retiring justice wrote landmark opinions on issues like reproductive rights, health care, voting rights, religion and the environment.

"Everyone knows that Stephen Breyer has been an exemplary justice, fair to the parties before him, courteous to his colleagues, careful in his reasoning," Biden said.

Supreme Court Justices
Supreme Court Justices

Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Supreme Court justices

Colleagues and staff, he added, "describe him and his work ethic and his desire to learn more, his kindness to those around him and his optimism in the promise of our country. He has patiently sought common ground and built consensus, seeking to bring the court together."

Breyer spoke to a small audience in the room as well, which included his wife, Joanna Hare.

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"This is a complicated country," Breyer said. "There's more than 330 million people, and my mother used to say it's every race, it's every religion — and she would emphasize this — and its every point of view possible."

He invoked President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure," Breyer said, quoting Lincoln.

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on January 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden’s COVID vaccine or testing mandate for large private businesses, but allowed a vaccine mandate to take effect for medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.
The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on January 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden’s COVID vaccine or testing mandate for large private businesses, but allowed a vaccine mandate to take effect for medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.

Alex Wong/Getty The U.S. Supreme Court

Breyer said Lincoln and the country's first president, George Washington, considered American democracy an "experiment."

"You know who will see whether that experiment works? It's you, my friend. It's you, Mr. High School Student. It's you, Mr. College Student. It's you, Mr. Law School Students. It's us, but it's you. It's that next generation, and the one after that," Breyer said. "My grandchildren and their children. They'll determine whether the experiment still works and, of course, I'm an optimist and I am pretty sure it will."

When Biden briefly returned to the podium, he invited the justice and his wife to come stay at the White House in the Lincoln Bedroom, where he said there is a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address.

"You gotta come and see it," Biden said. "And even if you can't come and stay, bring your grandchildren so they can see it."