Sen. Susan M. Collins lambasted the White House on Sunday for a “clumsy” pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, arguing that President Biden is only politicizing the nation’s highest court.
Ms. Collins, Maine Republican, told ABC’s “This Week” that she welcomes the idea of replacing retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer with a Black woman. The senator criticized, however, how Mr. Biden came to the decision.
“I believe that diversity benefits the Supreme Court. But the way that the president has handled this nomination has been clumsy at best,” she said. “It adds to the further perception that the court is a political institution like Congress when it is not supposed to be.”
Ms. Collins, in particular, argued that Mr. Biden has made the nomination process overtly political by promising to pick a Black woman long before there was even a Supreme Court vacancy.
“What President Biden did was as a candidate, make this pledge,” she said. “And that helped politicize the entire nomination process.”
Republicans have been quick to rebuke Mr. Biden for appearing to prioritize race and gender over legal qualifications in deciding the candidate pool to replace Justice Breyer.
Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican, has even gone to the extent of arguing that the White House’s pledge is a form of affirmative action.
“The irony is that the Supreme Court is at the very time hearing cases about this sort of affirmative racial discrimination while adding someone who is the beneficiary of this sort of quota,” Mr. Wicker told a Mississippi radio station last week.
Not all Republicans agree, though, that Mr. Biden’s pledge amounted to affirmative action for one of the highest posts in the government.
“Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America. You know, we make a real effort as Republicans to recruit women and people of color to make the party look more like America,” Sen. Lindsay Graham, South Carolina Republican, said during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Affirmative action is picking somebody not as well qualified [to compensate] for past wrongs.”
Democrats have defended Mr. Biden’s conduct, saying that other presidents had similarly pledged to appoint women and people of color to the Supreme Court.
This is not the first time that a president has signaled what they’re looking for in a nominee,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I would just say the bottom line is this in terms of African American women,” Mr. Durbin said. “If they have achieved the level of success in the practice of law and jurisprudence, they’ve done it against great odds. They’re extraordinary people.”
Mr. Durbin added concerns about qualifications would be addressed during the Senate confirmation process.
“They’re all going to face the same close scrutiny,” he said. “This is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, and I just hope that those who are critical of the president’s selection aren’t doing it for personal reasons.”
A new ABC poll released on Sunday shows that 76% of voters want Mr. Biden to consider “all possible nominees” when filling a Supreme Court vacancy. Only 23% of respondents, meanwhile, said the White House should only consider a Black woman.
Justice Breyer, 83, confirmed last week that his 28-year tenure on the Supreme Court would come to a close this year.
His replacement must win confirmation from the Senate. Thanks to rule changes that ended the filibuster for judicial nominees, the nominee only needs a simple majority in the 50-50 split chamber, where Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote.