RALEIGH — During President Joe Biden’s campaign, he pledged to put a black woman on the Supreme Court if he had the chance to make a nomination, and with Associate Justice Stephen Breyer’s announced retirement, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls is on the short list of those being considered.
In comments to multiple media outlets, Earls said she was “honored” to be among those being considered, but also made clear she takes her current position on the state’s highest court seriously. Earls was raised in Seattle and received her law degree from Yale Law School, but she has spent much of her legal career in North Carolina and has been a professor at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill.
Earls has been hammered with regular press releases over the last couple weeks from North Carolina GOP leaders, who say she is not impartial enough to rule on the state’s new congressional and legislative districts. They argue that because Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee is a top campaign donor, she will not be able to be fair in a case where the group is a plaintiff against their maps.
Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who is now running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, was also on various lists of black women likely being considered. Beasley told ABC11, though, that she is “committed to running for Senate,” apparently removing herself from consideration.
Powerful black North Carolina Democrat Congressman G.K. Butterfield, however, has another person in mind, telling the Washington Post that he and South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn, another important member of the Congressional Black Caucus, are petitioning for South Carolina District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs.
Childs, though from South Carolina and a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, does have a North Carolina connection in that she earned a master of laws degree from Duke University School of Law.
While Childs has become somewhat of a frontrunner, Earls’ name is still on a very short list for this highest of positions for an American jurist. If chosen, she would be only the fifth person to be nominated from the state, and if confirmed, she would join only Justices James Iredell and Alfred Moore as U.S. Supreme Court justices hailing from North Carolina.
The first justice to have a strong link to the Tar Heel state was James Wilson. Wilson was born in Scotland and lived most of his life in Pennsylvania, but he died and was buried in Edenton, North Carolina, after fleeing creditors. He served from 1789 to 1798.
The first justice selected from North Carolina was James Iredell, who was born in England but settled in the state. Iredell served at about the same time as Wilson (1790-1799) and also died in Edenton. Both men were appointed by George Washington. Iredell County was named for him.
After Iredell died in 1799, President John Adams picked another North Carolinian to take his place — Alfred Moore, who served from 1800 to 1804. Moore spent his life in the state, having been born in New Hanover County and dying in Bladen County. Moore County and Moore Square in downtown Raleigh are both named for Alfred Moore.
While no North Carolinian has sat on the court after these two early justices, two others from the state were nominated. George Badger was from New Bern and served in important federal positions throughout his career, including representing North Carolina in the U.S. Senate and being the secretary of the Navy under President William Henry Harrison. But when President Millard Fillmore nominated him to be an associate justice to the Supreme Court in 1853, Badger’s nomination failed.
There was only one other North Carolinian to be nominated to this position, John J. Parker, who was born in Monroe and practiced law in Monroe, Greensboro and Charlotte. Parker was a circuit court judge with the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and President Herbert Hoover nominated him in 1930 to be an associate justice. His nomination, like Badger’s, was not confirmed by the Senate, however. He did go on to represent the United States as a judge in the famous Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals after WWII.
If Earls is chosen by Biden as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, she would need to be confirmed by a Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Her past decisions, political opinions and even personal life will likely be closely scrutinized to determine her fit for the nation’s highest court.
Childs may have another leg up on the competition, though, considering at least one Republican senator, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, has indicated he is likely to approve her if nominated. This could make her more attractive in that Republican support would help Biden avoid the embarrassment of a failed nomination or a drawn-out fight around a more controversial pick.
Graham told CBS News in an interview that he “can’t think of a better person for President Biden to consider for the Supreme Court than Michelle Childs. 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.”
He also said that “It would be good for the court to have somebody who’s not at Harvard or Yale. She’s a graduate of the University of South Carolina.”