Several signals suggest President Joe Biden is moving closer to picking someone to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court, as the White House quickly approaches its self-imposed deadline to announce a nominee before the end of the month.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that there was no circumstance in which Biden would hold his announcement of a Supreme Court nominee after February, suggesting the ongoing crisis in Ukraine hasn’t derailed their goal.
Multiple sources have told CNN Biden that has already met with three potential Supreme Court nominees, each of whom could become the first Black woman nominated to the bench. The women under consideration are Ketanji Brown Jackson, who sits on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; Leondra Kruger, who sits on the California Supreme Court; and J. Michelle Childs, who sits on the US District Court for the District of South Carolina.
White House officials began reaching out to potential Supreme Court candidates to gather more information about their records earlier this month. As part of the normal protocol in the vetting process, the FBI has contacted friends and former colleagues of potential nominees.
However, according to multiple sources, it’s not clear yet whether Biden has made up his mind.
Psaki said on Wednesday that she didn’t have any updates on whether the President had made a selection.
Kruger interviewed in person at the White House with Biden last week, according to a person familiar. And the team working with her has been in constant communication with the White House, including late Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the person. That includes continuing to answer last minute, formal questions coming from the White House. Their impression is that the President still has not made a final decision. However, the White House team has been communicating that a decision will be made by Monday.
Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to the President, told members of the organization Win With Black Woman on a Sunday night video conference call that the White House was “close” to finalizing the pick, according to a source who participated in the call. The group has been supportive of the administration, particularly Black women like Vice President Kamala Harris and Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights.
And on Wednesday, South Carolina Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn – a key Biden ally – said during a “Citizen by CNN” event that he did not know if the President had made up his mind yet.
Clyburn, who has pushed the White House and the President directly to select Childs to replace Breyer, also said of three women who being considered are “three outstanding judges and they will make three outstanding jurists.”
Earlier Wednesday, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump issued a statement urging Biden to choose Jackson, becoming one of the first leaders in the civil rights arena to offer a full-throated – and public – endorsement of a contender for the high court.
Crump said he supports Jackson because of her civil rights and advocacy background and by picking her, Biden would be committing to bringing justice and fairness to the bench. He also called her “an advocate for and proud of our African American community.”
“My standards for this nominee go beyond integrity, brilliance and fairness,” Crump said in the statement obtained by CNN. “I carry the additional purchase that this justice must represent African Americans in a way that has cultural competency, forcefulness and instills deep pride.”
He added, “There will be no learning curve for Judge Jackson, she knows the law, has adjudicated it well, and is battle tested. Jackson has the educational credentials and commitment which put her in an elite with which the Court is familiar, having the same credentials as most of the modern justices, if not more than.”
Leaders from legacy civil rights organizations like the NAACP, National Urban League and National Action Network have yet to put any weight behind a candidate publicly to give Biden room to make his own decision but also because one their own is reported to be in contention, a separate source close to the organizations thinking said. Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (a separate organization from the NAACP) was reported to be a name on Biden’s initial short list.
Additionally, Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson endorsed Jackson on Wednesday, writing in a letter to the President that she’s known Jackson since she was a child and highlighting her experience as a public defender.
Both Wilson and Crump also noted Jackson’s experience as a law clerk for Breyer.
Some Senate Republicans, in public and behind closed doors, have told CNN they disagree with Biden announcing he plans to name a Black woman rather than judging the nominee squarely on her credentials – even though both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump said they’d name a female justice while on the campaign trail.
Despite their desire to put up a fight in the confirmation process, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he disagrees with those in his party who find it inappropriate for Biden to announce he would fill the vacancy with an African American woman. He assured on Tuesday that “this confirmation will not occur” like Brett Kavanaugh’s, adding that Republicans “believe a Supreme Court nominee ought to be respectfully treated, thoroughly vetted and voted upon.”
Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that all of the women whose names are being floated as prospective nominees “would make tremendous additions to the Supreme Court,” noting that the administration “has seen efforts to mar their reputations.”
“(W)e are going to fight back … against efforts to tar any of their reputations,” she continued. “That means defending them publicly, standing up for them, providing information to debunk any information that’s being put out about them that’s inaccurate.”
The White House maintains that they’re sticking to their target deadline to name a nominee, even though in recent days the administration has devoted much of its focus to its response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Most recently, on Wednesday, Biden announced the US is moving ahead with sanctions on the company in charge of building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline after blocking such measures last year using a national security waiver.
The nominee announcement is expected to come ahead of Biden’s first State of the Union address on March 1. The speech provides Biden an opportunity to speak directly to the American people and name his accomplishments since taking office. And adding the naming of a Supreme Court nominee to that list of victories could boost the Democrats’ political prospects during the midterm elections this fall.
CNN’s Jessica Schneider, Ariane de Vogue, Joan Biskupic, Manu Raju and Jasmine Wright contributed to this report.