Jan 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Clyburn’s case for Judge Michelle Childs to replace Breyer

Michelle Childs is seen in a courtesy photo.
Judge J. Michelle Childs. Photo: Courtesy of United States District Court of South Carolina

If helping Joe Biden become president isn't reason enough, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) has a strong reason for his favored Supreme Court choice: J. Michelle Childs is a Southerner — a rare perspective in the chamber.

Why it matters: Ketanji Brown Jackson has emerged as an early front-runner to replace Justice Stephen Breyer. Biden has committed to putting a Black woman on the high court, and Jackson was recently vetted and approved by the Senate. Childs, though, is from Clyburn's homestate of South Carolina.

  • "The vast majority of African American women in this country have their roots in the South," Clyburn told Axios on Thursday. "What [Childs] brings to the judiciary and would bring to the Supreme Court is the kind of background that would add significantly."
  • "She will demonstrate who and what Southerners are all about," he added.

Raw politics also may help: Childs hails from a state with two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott.

  • While they're not usually ones to help Democrats, Graham would introduce any Supreme Court nominee from South Carolina as the state's senior senator, and Scott is the Senate's only Black Republican member.

Several high-profile cases the Supreme Court is set to consider this year also originated from Southern states, advocates note.

  • A decision on Mississippi's abortion restrictions will be made in June.
  • The University of North Carolina is involved in the affirmative cction case.
  • The court has two immigration cases on the docket for this year.
  • Childs' Southern life experience was "the most important issue in all of this," Clyburn told Axios.

Clarence Thomas, a current justice and the second Black member of the Supreme Court, was born in Pin Point, Georgia, and grew up in Savannah but educated in the North at College of the Holy Cross.

  • Like many other justices, he also went to an Ivy League law school: Yale University.
  • Thomas then spent his career in Missouri and Washington, D.C.

Childs, 55, went the other way: She was born in Detroit but educated in the South at the University of South Florida.

  • She also went to a non-Ivy law school, the University of South Carolina.
  • She's worked in the state ever since and now serves as a judge on the U.S. District Court in Columbia, S.C.

Between the lines: Part of the calculus for any Biden nominee is someone who can be confirmed in a 50-50 Senate and, ideally, with the buffer of bipartisan support.

  • Jackson was confirmed last year to the D.C. Court of Appeals — a known Supreme Court feeder — by a vote of 53-44.
  • The tally included yeas from Graham and fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Clyburn told Axios he's personally spoken about Childs to both Graham and Scott, and though he hasn't asked whether they would vote for her, he said both see her in a "favorable light."

  • "His advice on the Supreme Court nominee shouldn't go unheard or ignored," said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist from South Carolina.
  • "The court needs someone with the life and work experiences that reflect not where America is or where America was, but where America hopefully will be."
  • Spokespersons for Graham and Scott did not immediately return requests for comment.

The backdrop: Clyburn told Axios he's also made his feelings known in the White House over the past six months.

  • He's made his case for Childs not only to the president and Vice President Kamala Harris but Chief of Staff Ron Klain, senior adviser Cedric Richmond and Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice.
  • "So, I don't think I need to be calling them every day," he said.
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