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Republicans take issue with Biden's pledge to pick a Black woman for Supreme Court


Any time a Supreme Court nominee isn't a white man, identity enters the discussion. Just ask Amy Coney Barrett, whose nomination former President Donald Trump used as an applause line...


DONALD TRUMP: I will be putting forth a nominee next week. It will be a woman.


KEITH: ...Or Sonia Sotomayor, whose comments about being a wise Latina were a huge part of her confirmation hearings. Some Republicans have spent much of this week taking issue with President Biden's campaign promise to pick a Black woman for the Supreme Court. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben reports.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: To get a basic point out of the way, Senate Republicans don't have the numbers to stop Biden's nominee from going forward. But they will raise a fuss in the process. Here's Texas Senator Ted Cruz on his podcast this week.


TED CRUZ: If he came and said, I'm going to put the best jurist on the court, and he looked at a number of people, and he ended up nominating a Black woman, he could credibly say, OK, I'm nominating the person who's most qualified.


CRUZ: He's not even pretending to say that. He's saying, if you're a white guy, tough luck.

KURTZLEBEN: To get another basic point out of the way, the Republicans objecting to Biden's promise didn't object this way to Trump's promise to nominate a woman. Some of any debate around Supreme Court representation is political. Trump was the head of a party with paltry female representation, not to mention the fact that a long list of women had accused him of sexual misconduct. Joe Biden's promise to nominate a Black woman arguably helped him lock up the nomination, with South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn's endorsement ahead of his state's primary.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I will appoint the first Black woman to the court. It's required that they have representation now. It's long overdue.

KURTZLEBEN: And compounding all that is that Biden was an older white man emerging from the most diverse presidential field ever. But beyond the politics, the current debate helps clarify the two parties' differing, broad views on the value of representation. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham praised potential Biden pick J. Michelle Childs on CBS' "Face The Nation."


LINDSEY GRAHAM: Michelle Childs is incredibly qualified. There's no affirmative action component if you pick her.

KURTZLEBEN: Then again, that seemed to leave room for the idea that considering race and gender could mean deprioritizing qualifications. John Malcolm, director of the Meese Center for Legal & Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, laid it out this way.

JOHN MALCOLM: The quality of justice is going to be far more dependent on the character and qualifications of the people who wear the robes than it is going to be determined whether they are white, Black, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, men or women.

KURTZLEBEN: In other words, according to this prominent Republican argument, diversity is a fine thing to arrive at, but not always necessary in achieving good governance. Then again, Donald Trump remains the most popular figure in the party and has pulled its focus away from ideology and onto white grievance. Among Democrats, a prevalent view is that diversity is a means to an end of getting a fairer country. Here's New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with Yahoo News this week.


ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Identity is just the starting step. There is no shortage of incredible Black female candidates, but the question is, what is going to be that nominee's worldview?

KURTZLEBEN: Aimee Allison is founder and president of She the People, which promotes women of color in politics. She believes representation is particularly important as the court takes up issues like voting rights and abortion.

AIMEE ALLISON: There are so many issues that in order for us to have a more just country, we have to begin to look at those with a lens and understanding of the role that racism and sexism have played in current policies, practices, laws.

KURTZLEBEN: But this discussion is all happening without a nominee. Michael Steele, former head of the Republican National Committee, will be watching to see how Republicans react to Biden's eventual pick.

MICHAEL STEELE: If you plan to vote against the first Black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court, then just do it, all right? But to go about this business - like, Joe Biden's just going to go show up at a mall somewhere and grab some, you know, indiscriminate Black person and say - Black female - say, hey; you're now a Supreme Court justice.

KURTZLEBEN: The public discourse around Biden's pick may be telling, but votes will be the ultimate statements. Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DZIHAN AND KAMIEN'S "AY, AY, AY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.