U.S. President Joe Biden has tapped a team of White House advisers with lengthy Supreme Court and Senate confirmation experience as he prepares to nominate the first Black woman to be an associate justice.
Biden will consult closely with Vice President Kamala Harris in a selection process that will be led in part by chief of staff Ron Klain, White House counsel Dana Remus, senior counsel Paige Herwig, and senior adviser Cedric Richmond, the White House said.
The team will need to guide Biden's choice through what could be a bruising confirmation process from Republicans who hold 50 seats in the Senate, while tending to Democrat groups, from lawmakers to advocates, that have a stake in his decision.
Biden is expected to work from a list of about 10 or fewer people to pick a nominee. The White House may begin reaching out to and potentially meeting with possible Supreme Court picks as soon as next week.
On Thursday, Biden said he planned to nominate a Black woman to the post, which he called "long overdue."
Activists had urged outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, to retire to ensure Biden gets an unfettered Supreme Court pick while Democrats control the Senate.
"We don't want to take our time with this," said Brian Fallon, executive director of advocacy group Demand Justice, welcoming a speedy process. Breyer has "given us a bit of a gift" with his early-in-the-year announcement, allowing the process to get started now and avoid hurdles, such as a senator catching COVID-19, that could derail it later.
November's midterm elections could give control of the Senate to Republicans, making it more difficult for any Biden nominee to win the simple majority vote necessary for the lifetime Supreme Court seat.
Klain, who worked for Biden when he served on the U.S. Senate's judiciary committee, has a long background in Supreme Court nominations. He served as a "sherpa," or guide through the confirmation process for former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020. Both she and Breyer were selected by former President Bill Clinton.
Remus was a clerk under Associate Justice Samuel Alito and Herwig has overseen a flurry of judicial nominations and confirmations since Biden came into office, resulting in the most of any president in his first year since Ronald Reagan.
Biden himself chaired the Senate judicial committee from 1987 to 1995.
"It is hard to find a more tested team than the one President Biden has to work on the Supreme Court nomination," said Anita Dunn, a former senior adviser to Biden. The president is likely to spend a huge amount of his personal time reading decisions and opinions by the judicial candidates, she said.
Names expected to be on Biden's list include Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal judge; Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court; and Sherrilyn Ifill, a prominent civil rights lawyer who heads the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
White House officials have not yet chosen a "sherpa" to shepherd a nominee through get-to-know-you meetings at the Capitol, and have not ruled out picking a Republican, one source familiar with the situation said.
The White House believes Harris does have the authority to break a tie vote on a Supreme Court pick in a Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, but thinks it can get some Republicans to back Biden's choice and make a tie-breaker unnecessary, the source said.
Democrat Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to make the confirmation process as short as a month. Biden said he intended to announce his nominee before the end of February.
The White House sees no need to follow Schumer's 30-day push for a confirmation, particularly since Breyer will remain on the bench until June, the source familiar with the process said.
The White House may need the extra time. Biden's team will need to look at candidates' qualifications, conclude vetting procedures, appease senators pushing for candidates from their home states, and meet with civil rights groups and other parties with an interest in the nominee.
"Managing all of that is a pretty significant effort," he said Andy Wright, a former member of Biden's transition team who is now a partner at K&L Gates.
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