As a candidate, Biden said that if given the opportunity, he would nominate an African American woman — who, if confirmed, would become the first Black female Supreme Court justice.
Speculation on whom Biden might choose began quickly after news reports emerged of Breyer’s planned retirement. Here’s a quick guide to some of the top contenders, as well as some others under consideration.
Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She was born in Washington, the daughter of two graduates of historically Black colleges and universities who instilled in her a sense that she could do or be anything she set her mind to, she recalled in a speech in March.
In June, Biden nominated Jackson to fill Merrick Garland’s seat on the D.C. Circuit after Garland was confirmed as attorney general. That fueled speculation that she was on the president’s shortlist for potential justices because the D.C. court is considered the second-most powerful in the country and because high court nominees are traditionally chosen from the federal appeals bench.
Jackson has clerked for Breyer and for two other federal judges. She attended Harvard University as an undergraduate and a law student, serving as an editor for the Harvard Law Review. And her experience as a public defender has endeared her to the more liberal base of the Democratic Party.
Leondra Kruger, 45, is a California Supreme Court justice. At the U.S. Department of Justice, she served as deputy solicitor general, the federal government’s second-ranking representative in arguments at the Supreme Court, before becoming one of the youngest people ever nominated to the high court in California, taking her seat in 2015.
During her tenure in the Office of the Solicitor General, Kruger argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, according to her court biography.
She has previously rebuffed offers from the White House to take a job in the administration.
Kruger is from California and attended Harvard as an undergraduate, followed by Yale University as a law student, serving as editor in chief of the Yale Law Journal. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
J. Michelle Childs
J. Michelle Childs, 55, has served on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for more than a decade. Biden unexpectedly nominated her last month to serve on the high-profile D.C. Circuit, surprising Washington-area lawyers who had anticipated a pick with local ties.
Childs served in state government on the Workers’ Compensation Commission and was deputy director of South Carolina’s Department of Labor. She was born in Detroit and moved to South Carolina as a teen and has said she was the first Black female partner in a major law firm in the state. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from state schools in Florida and South Carolina.
A favorite of one of Biden’s most influential congressional allies, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), Childs faces a confirmation hearing next week for her nomination to the D.C. Circuit.
Clyburn and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) have said in interviews that Childs would meet Biden’s frequently stated goal of bringing more diverse backgrounds to the Supreme Court — not just because she is a Black woman, but also because she did not attend an Ivy League law school.
“Joe Biden has talked about the kind of experiences he’d bring into the presidency,” Clyburn said. “He was brought up in Scranton, in Delaware, educated in the public schools. That’s who Michelle Childs is.”
Others under consideration, according to people familiar with the matter, include Anita Earls, a North Carolina Supreme Court justice; New York University law professor Melissa Murray; and Minnesota federal District Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Earls is an associate justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court with a Yale Law School degree. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton as deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in 1998. “I love the job I have and will continue to serve the people of North Carolina,” she said this week, adding that she was “honored for the people who watch the court to include me on a list like this and this distinguished list of women.”
At 61 years old, she is probably too old to be seriously considered for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright is a Minnesota federal district court judge appointed by President Barack Obama who has served since 2016. The 58-year-old, who is Minnesota’s first Black female federal judge, is also described as the only jurist in the state’s history to serve on the state district court, appellate court and state Supreme Court.
She is believed to be a favorite of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, which processes Supreme Court and other judicial nominations.
Melissa Murray, 46, is a constitutional scholar at New York University and authority on reproductive rights and family law.
She clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor when Sotomayor served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Murray is a close observer of the Supreme Court, and regularly comments about the justices as an MSNBC contributor and through a podcast with others called Strict Scrutiny.
Murray has described the pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court as both “amazing” and “overdue.” She has written two books about reproductive rights, and was previously on the faculty of the University of California’s Berkeley Law, where she served as interim dean.
Robert Barnes and John Wagner contributed to this report.