Clyburn pushes his pick for Supreme Court, testing his sway with Biden

Febraury 7, 2022

The highest-ranking Black member of Congress is credited with helping resurrect the president’s 2020 campaign at a critical point. Now he is calling in a favor, reports The New York Times.

Democratic Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina already was picturing Judge J. Michelle Childs sitting on the Supreme Court bench in early 2020 when he suggested Joseph R. Biden Jr. could revive his faltering presidential campaign by pledging to nominate the first Black woman to serve there.

Biden did so—paving the way for an endorsement from Clyburn ahead of the South Carolina primary, which was a critical turning point in the race. In the months since the election, Clyburn, the number-three House Democrat, has not been shy about taking his share of credit for Biden’s victory and trying to exert influence on the president’s policy and personnel choices.

Now, Clyburn is mounting an aggressive campaign to persuade the president to nominate Judge Childs, a district court judge in his home state of South Carolina, to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring.

According to the Times, Clyburn is mounting a blatant effort to call in a political favor in the form of a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court and, perhaps, the most consequential test yet of the Biden-Clyburn relationship.

“I make my case, I share my views, sometimes my feelings, and then I go on,”. Clyburn, 81, said in a recent interview, describing how he uses his sway with Mr. Biden. This time, he is going all out, and irking some of the president’s allies in the process.

Within hours of Breyer’s retirement announcement, Clyburn held a conference call with South Carolina reporters, stating that Judge Childs’s humble backgroun —she attended large public universities on scholarships, earning her undergraduate degree at the University of South Florida, and law and business degrees at the University of South Carolina—would better represent the country than another justice with an Ivy League pedigree. (Ketanji Brown Jackson, another top contender, has two degrees from Harvard, while a third, Leondra R. Kruger, has one from Harvard and one from Yale.)

Allies in South Carolina immediately began emailing talking points to potentially helpful surrogates, noting that Judge Childs was “rooted in the African American community,” a member of Delta Sigma Theta, the prestigious Black sorority, and a member of the oldest Black Catholic church in Columbia.

Over the past week, Clyburn has plugged Childs’s case on television and noted that she has the backing of Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. On Wednesday, February 2, he and Graham had breakfast in the Senate dining room with Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, to discuss, among other issues, Judge Childs and how to make a bipartisan case for her nomination. Graham posted a picture on Twitter of the three men smiling.

“It’s good for the country to have the court look more like America,” Graham said afterward. He said he had told the White House that Judge Childs, who is regarded as more moderate than other candidates whom Biden is thought to be considering, “would draw some Republican support.”

At the White House, Clyburn has been talking her up to the president since a few days after Inauguration Day, although he said he had not spoken to Biden about Judge Childs since Breyer’s retirement announcement. It was Clyburn who urged the president to nominate her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is considered a feeder to the Supreme Court. Biden announced in December that he would do so, but that appointment is now on hold.

Research contact: @nytimes