The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Shelby County v. Holder, which overturned a key prevision of the Voting Rights Act, rattled civil rights proponents who see it as a major setback in the quest for racial equality and justice. The role of the court’s lone African-American justice, Clarence Thomas, who sided with the court’s majority in the ruling, sparked particular criticism. But in addition to disappointment, the fallout from the case has also fueled speculation regarding the future of the court.
During his first term, President Obama appointed two women, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, who became the court’s first Latina justice. Now in part because of the Shelby ruling, the president will likely face great pressure to nominate an African American next to the nation’s highest court. Since there have already been two African-American male Supreme Court justices, many are hopeful that he will nominate an African-American woman. In this list of possible contenders, some are better-known than others; some are long shots. But any of them would bring something unique and extraordinary to the Supreme Court.
Leah Ward Sears
Claim to fame: First African-American female chief justice of a state Supreme Court
Other highlights: If anyone is qualified to make history on the Supreme Court, it’s Sears, who has spent her career being a trailblazer. In 1992 the Cornell graduate became the first woman and youngest person appointed to Georgia’s Supreme Court. She resigned in 2009 to become a partner at a private law firm.
Claim to fame: The first African-American attorney general in California
Other highlights: Harris, a former district attorney representing San Francisco, is being touted by many as having the brains and star power necessary to make it all the way to the White House someday. (The White House’s current occupant got into hot water for commenting on Harris’ good looks.) But it’s arguable that Supreme Court justices wield even more power than the president. They also get more than eight years to serve. In addition, she is half Indian, so she would make history twice: as the court’s first African-American female and first Indian-American justice.
Claim to fame: First openly gay African-American federal judge
Other highlights: A graduate of Harvard Law School, Batts currently sits on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. If nominated to the Supreme Court, she would become the court’s first openly gay justice.
Judith Ann Wilson Rogers
Claim to fame: Replaced Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Other highlights: After serving as chief judge for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals from 1988 to 1994, Rogers was nominated by then-President Bill Clinton to fill the vacancy that Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination left on the U.S. Court of Appeals. How ironic would it be if Rogers, a Harvard Law School graduate, ended up joining Thomas on the Supreme Court?
Claim to fame: First African-American female tenured professor at Harvard Law School
Other highlights: Guinier is probably best remembered as the woman whose law school classmate Bill Clinton was forced to withdraw her nomination for assistant attorney general for civil rights when some of her writings on affirmative action sparked controversy among conservative lawmakers. Many believe that Guinier was treated unfairly. What better consolation prize for a woman considered one of the brightest legal minds in the country than a Supreme Court seat?
Claim to fame: At the time of her appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in 1994, she was the youngest sitting federal judge in America.
Janice Rogers Brown
Claim to fame: Controversial nominee of President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Other highlights: Brown saw her nomination to the Court of Appeals stalled for two years because of opposition by Democratic senators. Her libertarian tendencies would likely ensure that the same senators and progressive groups that opposed her nomination to the federal court years ago would do so again if she were nominated to the Supreme Court.