WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins criticized President Joe Biden for his “clumsy” handling of the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, saying the president’s pledge to pick a Black woman is overly political.
The comments by a moderate Republican signal that Democrats may fall short in their hopes to have bipartisan support for whomever Biden picks, given Collins is one of the most likely to vote in favor of the nominee.
“I welcome the appointment of Black females to the court and believe that diversity benefits the Supreme Court, but the way that the president has handled this nomination has been clumsy at best,” Collins, of Maine, said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
“It adds to the further perception that the court is a political institution like Congress when it’s not supposed to be,” she said.
Collins said that Ronald Reagan, when nominating Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female justice, hadn’t made a campaign pledge to do so beforehand. She said she’s open to whomever Biden nominates and appreciates Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin’s pledge to grant her an interview with the nominee.
Collins voted for one of the potential nominees last year when Circuit Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson received approval for her current position. Asked if she could support Jackson for the Supreme Court vacancy, Collins didn’t indicate how she would vote, saying she’d have to review her rulings and recent statements before commenting.
Durbin expressed hope on “This Week” that Biden’s nominee will receive bipartisan support. The speed of the confirmation hearings will depend on whether the nominee has come before the Senate in the past and on that person’s background, he said.
In the evenly split Senate, Democrats can confirm Biden’s nominee on their own on the strength of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote if all 50 members of the caucus stick together.
Durbin declined to characterize Jackson as the front-runner on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying that youth will play into the nomination given a desire to find a judge who can serve a lengthy term.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, signaled support for J. Michelle Childs, a U.S. District Court judge from his state who is Black. He called her “highly qualified” and “an awesome person.”
He pushed back on the idea that nominating a Black woman was problematic.
“Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America,” Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” on Sunday. “I don’t see Michelle Childs as an act of affirmative action. I do see putting a black woman on the court making the court more like America.”
Erik Wasson and Ian Fisher, Bloomberg News