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Lindsey Graham praises potential Supreme Court nominee pushed by Clyburn, calling her ‘fair-minded, highly gifted’

President Biden is committed to his campaign promise to name the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. Here’s a list of his top contenders. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post)

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday appeared to enthusiastically endorse one of President Biden’s potential Supreme Court nominees to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who last week announced his intention to retire at the end of this court term.

In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Graham sang the praises of South Carolina federal District Judge J. Michelle Childs.

“I can’t think of a better person for President Biden to consider for the Supreme Court then Michelle Childs,” Graham told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan. “She has wide support in our state. She’s considered to be a fair-minded, highly gifted jurist. She’s one of the most decent people I’ve ever met.”

Rep. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), the number three in House Democratic leadership, has been publicly calling on Biden to choose Childs, and Graham’s comments lend credence to his argument that she could attract bipartisan support. Clyburn is a longtime ally of Biden who helped revitalize his presidential campaign when it was on life support by endorsing the former vice president days ahead of the South Carolina Democratic primary in February 2020. This history gives Clyburn’s support for Childs extra heft, and the White House took the rare step Friday of confirming she is under consideration for the Supreme Court.

Members of Congress discussed President Biden's potential picks for Supreme Court nominee on Jan. 30. (Video: Zach Purser Brown/The Washington Post)

Graham’s show of support stood in stark contrast to most Republican senators, who have either refrained from weighing in or have expressed concern that Biden would nominate someone too “radical.” Some have been critical of Biden’s promise to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. On Saturday, the White House issued a rebuke of Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who had said Biden’s pick would be a “beneficiary” of affirmative action and predicted she would “probably not get a single Republican vote.”

Graham on Sunday pushed back on Wicker’s comments, saying he did not see Childs as an affirmative action pick and that she is “qualified by every measure.”

“Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America,” he said. “Affirmative action is picking somebody not as well qualified for past wrongs. Michelle Childs is incredibly qualified. There’s no affirmative action component. If you pick her, she is highly qualified. … We’ve only had five women serve and two African American men [on the Supreme Court]. So let’s make the court more like America.”

Breyer’s retirement announcement, coupled with Biden’s stated goal of choosing a nominee by the end of February — and recommitting to his vow to nominate a Black woman — set off a flurry of speculation over who could be the next Supreme Court nominee. The White House has said someone being a sitting judge was good experience but not necessarily a prerequisite for being nominated.

Childs, 55, who has served as U.S. district judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina since 2010, has emerged on multiple shortlists, despite Supreme Court picks often coming from appeals courts, not district courts. Others include Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Leondra Kruger, 45, a California Supreme Court justice.

Clyburn, who also appeared on “Face the Nation” on Sunday to boost Childs again, has said he believed she would receive support from both of South Carolina’s Republican senators.

Graham sidestepped the question about whether he had told Clyburn he was a “yes” vote on Childs, and he did not fully commit to voting for her. But he praised her background as a graduate of the University of South Carolina, rather than an Ivy League school.

“It would be good for the court to have somebody who’s not [from] Harvard or Yale,” he said. “She’s been a workers comp judge. She’s highly qualified. She’s a good character. And we’ll see how she does if she’s nominated. But I cannot say anything bad about Michelle Childs. She is an awesome person.”

Here's what happens after Justice Stephen G. Breyer retires from the Supreme Court – and how President Biden will pick a successor. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

A representative for Sen. Tim Scott, the other Republican senator from South Carolina, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

Democrats, who hold a narrow 50-50 majority in the Senate — with Vice President Harris as the tiebreaking vote — will need a unified front if they want to confirm Biden’s nominee without the help of Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a statement last week saying Biden should not be influenced by “the radical left” when making his decision, though he did not specify what that meant.

Shortly afterward, White House press secretary Jen Psaki hit back at Republican arguments that Biden’s pick would be too “radical,” before the nominee was even announced.

“We also should be clear about some of the games that we’re already seeing indications of out there,” Psaki said Thursday. “If anyone is saying they plan to characterize whoever he nominates after thorough consideration with both parties as radical, before they know literally anything about who she is, they just obliterated their own credibility.”

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