At various points in the history of the United States, Presidential candidates and Presidents have
made statements about the judicial nomination of the next Supreme Court Justice, indicating that
issues of ethnicity and gender may provide the deciding factor in a selection process. Several
Presidents have appointed individuals to add characteristics of diversity, as well as legal
brilliance and judicial temperament. However, considerations of geographic diversity were more
prevalent than gender or ethnic diversity in the first 200 years of our country, as reflected by the
white, male Justices who served for many years. Only recently, issues of gender and ethnicity
have become determining factors. Some examples include:
- Lyndon Johnson stated that nominating Thurgood Marshall in 1967, the first Black
Supreme Court Justice, was: “The right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man
and the right place.” Johnson nominates Thurgood Marshall
- As a presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan stated in 1980 that he would appoint the first
female justice. President Reagan followed through by appointing Sandra Day O’Connor
in 1981. Washington Post: 10-15-1980
- George H.W. Bush, upon the opening created when Justice Marshall resigned in 1991,
appointed Clarence Thomas. Although President Bush resisted the implication that there
was a “Black” seat on the Supreme Court, he identified the opening as an opportunity to
continue efforts to diversify the Court. He also considered Judge Garza who is Hispanic.
- Barack Obama nominated the first Latina when he named Sonia Sotomayor in 2009.
While not explicitly mentioning her ethnic origins, he was fond of taking credit for
appointing the first Latina and third woman to the Court. Obama nominated Sotomayor
- Donald Trump, when speaking of Amy Coney Barrett as a possible candidate on the
occasion of Justice Kennedy’s departure said: “I’m saving her for Ginsburg”, pledging to
replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg with another woman. He nominated Amy Coney Barrett in
2020 following RBG’s untimely death. Trump nominates Barrett
- As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden promised to appoint the first Black woman to the
Supreme Court. He is now following through on that promise, and soon the Supreme
Court will be the most diverse it has been in the history of the United States.
The Court is finally starting to look a bit more like the United States of America.
However, it should be noted that a Native American has never served on the Supreme
Court, nor has anyone of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. Similarly, there has been no
one who is openly gay to have served on the Supreme Court. Unless the Supreme Court
has a variety of voices and life experiences, it is not likely to accurately represent the will
of the people. In celebrating Black History month, it is important to recognize the
richness of our society, and the advantages of a judiciary that represents all people.