WASHINGTON – Americans are starkly divided by race on the importance of President Joe Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, with white Americans far less likely to be highly enthusiastic about the idea than Black Americans — and especially Black women.
That's according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that shows 48% of Americans say it's not important to them personally that a Black woman becomes a Supreme Court Justice. Another 23% say that's somewhat important, and 29% say it's very or extremely important. Only two Black men have served on the nation’s highest court, and no Black women have ever been nominated.
The poll shows Biden’s pledge is resonating with Black Americans, 63% of whom say it’s very or extremely important to them personally that a Black woman serves on the court, compared with just 21% of white Americans and 33% of Hispanics. The findings come as Biden finalizes his pick to fill the seat that is being vacated by Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement last month.
“While I’ve been studying candidates’ backgrounds and writings, I’ve made no decisions except one: The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court," Biden said in his remarks on Breyer's impending retirement. “It’s long overdue, in my view."
Black women are particularly moved by the idea, with 70% placing high importance on the nomination, compared to 54% of Black men.
Diana White, a 76-year-old Democrat from Hanley Hills, Missouri, said Biden wouldn’t choose someone if “she didn’t have the potential and the professionalism and the knowledge to do the job.”
White, who is Black, said making a groundbreaking nomination could be inspirational to younger people.
“That’s what I think about, things for other people to look forward to later in life," she said.
Any enthusiasm that could be generated by Biden’s nomination could benefit his party in this year’s midterm elections, when Democrats risk losing control of Congress. So far Biden has struggled to deliver on other goals for the Black community, such as police reform legislation and voting rights protections.
Some 91% of Black voters backed Biden in the 2020 presidential election, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of the electorate.
But recent polls suggest Biden's approval rating has dipped substantially among Black Americans since the first half of 2021, when about 9 in 10 approved of how he was handling his job. The new poll shows that his approval among Black Americans stands at 67%.
Jarvis Goode, a 35-year-old Democrat from LaGrange, Georgia, agreed that it’s “overdue” to have a Black woman on the court.
Goode, who is Black, said he hopes the nomination would provide further proof that “women can do the same as men.”
Biden first promised to choose a Black women for the Supreme Court when he was running for president. According to a person familiar with the process, he’s interviewed at least three candidates for the position — judges Ketanji Brown Jackson, J. Michelle Childs and Leondra Kruger — and he’s expected to announce his decision next week.
The poll shows that most Democrats say a Black woman on the court is at least somewhat important, though only half think it's very important. Among Republicans, about 8 in 10 say it's not important.
John Novak, a 52-year-old Republican from Hudson, Wisconsin, said he disliked Biden’s pledge to choose a Black woman, saying there’s too much focus on “checking boxes” when it comes to nominating people.
“It should have been stated that we’re going to pick the best candidate who is going to follow the Constitution,” said Novak, who is white. “And then throw in that we’d like her to be a woman and woman of color.”
There's been a mixed reaction from Republican elected officials.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, described Biden's promise as “offensive” because it sends a message to most Americans that “I don’t give a damn about you, you are ineligible.”
However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it did not bother him, and he noted that President Donald Trump and President Ronald Reagan had promised to nominate women for the Supreme Court.
“I heard a couple of people say they thought it was inappropriate for the president to announce he was going to put an African American woman on the court. Honestly, I did not think that was inappropriate,” said McConnell said during a Tuesday event in his home state.
The poll found that Americans' faith in the Supreme Court continues to wane. Only 21% said they have a great deal of confidence in the high court, while 24% said they have hardly any confidence. The latter number has risen somewhat from 17% in September 2020, the last time the question was asked.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,289 adults was conducted Feb. 18-21 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.