Mike Lillis, The Hill, February 5, 2014
A feud between President Obama and black lawmakers over racial diversity among judges escalated Wednesday.
Valerie Jarrett, the president’s closest adviser, met with Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members and refused to back down over controversial nominees despite a growing storm of criticism.
Many CBC members say Obama hasn’t fought hard enough to fill the federal bench with the Democrats’ preferred picks, leaving some states with nominees who lack the ethnic diversity of the population they would oversee.
In a closed-door meeting with a handful of CBC leaders, Jarrett brushed back the criticism, saying Obama had a “commitment to diversity” and an “outstanding” record in placing minority judges, she said afterward.
Asked if the White House would consider replacing any of its choices, Jarrett’s answer was a terse, “No.”
The message was not well received. CBC members have criticized the nominees who they say champion policies that discriminate against minorities.
Georgia Rep. David Scott (D), said he approached Jarrett about two nominees in particular: one who once supported a state bill to keep the Confederate battle emblem a part of Georgia’s flag, and another who led the defense of the state’s photo ID law, which Scott claims is a statute designed “to keep black folks, as much as possible, from voting.”
“I asked her specifically that they should be [withdrawn]. She just didn’t say anything,” said Scott, who did not attend the briefing on nominees but was present at a later meeting with Jarrett and the full CBC.
“Do you think George Bush would have been able to do this, or any white president would have been able to do this? No,” Scott said. “The president should have said, ‘There’s absolutely no way I want to go down in history as putting these kinds of people into federal court nominations against my own African-American [people]’ . . . It’s a tragedy.”
While the controversy around Obama’s judicial picks has been largely limited to local delegations, the issue has gained broader prominence in recent weeks, with figures such as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) weighing in on the side of the CBC.
CBC leaders, including Norton, had threatened last month to highlight the issue further with a Washington press conference pushing back against Obama’s picks. That plan was put on hold, however, and it’s unclear if the media event will be rescheduled.
The White House, meanwhile, is pushing back hard against the notion that the administration has neglected to promote minorities to the bench. As Jarrett was meeting with the CBC, the White House announced the nomination of five new judicial nominees, including two women, one Hispanic and an openly gay African-American.
The White House also recently launched a new page on its website dedicated entirely to highlighting the diversity of Obama’s judicial nominees.