US judge with Jamaican mother in the running as Biden readies for 'long overdue' black female justice
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the retirement of SupremeCourt Associate Justice Stephen Breyer (left) in the RooseveltRoom of the White House in Washington, Thursday. (Photos: AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Leondra Kruger, whose mother is Jamaican, is among those reportedly being considered by President Joe Biden to fill the looming vacancy on the US Supreme Court bench.

Biden strongly affirmed Thursday that he will nominate the first black woman to the US Supreme Court, declaring such historic representation is “long overdue” and promising to announce his choice by the end of February.

In a White House ceremony marking a moment of national transition, Biden praised retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, who will have spent nearly 28 years on the high court by the time he leaves at the end of the term, as “a model public servant at a time of great division in this country”.

And with that the search for Breyer's replacement was under way in full. Biden promised a nominee worthy of Breyer's legacy and said he'd already been studying the backgrounds and writings of potential candidates.

“I've made no decision except one: The person I will nominate will be somebody of extraordinary qualifications, character and integrity,” he said. “And that person will be the first black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It is long overdue.”

Biden's choice will be historic on its face: No black woman has ever served on the high court. The decision is also notable coming at a time of national reckoning over race and gender inequality. However, the court's 6-3 conservative majority is destined to remain intact.

Kruger would be the first person, in more than 40 years, to move from a state court to the Supreme Court if she were to be chosen and confirmed as Biden's nominee. The last was Sandra Day O'Connor, a barrier-breaker who was the court's first female justice. O'Connor was an Arizona Court of Appeals judge when nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, fufilling his campaign promise to put a woman to Supreme Court.

Kruger, 45, has been on the California Supreme Court since 2015. She was just 38 when chosen for the job by then-Governor Jerry Brown. She's seen as a moderate on the seven-member court.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of a Jamaican mother and Jewish father, both paediatricians. She attended Harvard before getting her law degree from Yale and was a law clerk to a Supreme Court justice — John Paul Stevens.

Before moving back to California, Kruger worked for the Department of Justice. She argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal Government, including one involving religious schools' ability to fire teachers.

Kruger is the first California Supreme Court justice to have a baby while serving on the court. She and her husband have two children.

Biden is using his choice to fulfil one of his early campaign promises, one that helped resurrect his moribund primary campaign and propel him to the White House in 2020.

And it gives him the chance to show black voters, who are increasingly frustrated with a president they helped to elect, that he is serious about their concerns, particularly with his voting rights legislation stalled in the Senate. It also could help drive Democratic enthusiasm amid concerns about a midterm routing in congressional races.

Biden spent his first year in office working to nominate a diverse group of judges to the federal bench, not just in race but also in professional expertise, and he has been reviewing possible high court candidates along the way. He has installed five black women on federal appeals courts — where many high court justices come from — with three more nominations pending before the Senate.

As a senator, he spent years leading the Senate Judiciary Committee and so he's quite familiar with the nomination process, having overseen six Supreme Court confirmation hearings. One person who will be central to Biden's selection process is chief of staff Ron Klain, a former Supreme Court law clerk and chief counsel to the Judiciary Committee.

The president has already met personally with at least one top nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51. She is a former Breyer clerk who worked at the US Sentencing Commission and has been a federal trial court judge since 2013 in the District of Columbia. The two met when Biden interviewed her for her current post as an appeals court judge in the DC circuit, where she has served since last June.

Early discussions about a successor are focusing on Jackson, US District Judge J Michelle Childs and Kruger, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss White House deliberations. Jackson and Kruger have long been seen as possible nominees.

Childs, a federal judge in South Carolina, has been nominated but not yet confirmed to serve on the same circuit court. She is a favourite among some high-profile lawmakers. Her confirmation to the federal appeals bench is expected next week.

Biden also personally interviewed a few other possible candidates, including Eunice Lee and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi. Both women have experience as criminal defence attorneys and could diversify the range of legal expertise on the high court, where many of the judges came from prosecutorial jobs or academia. Biden spoke to those two for their recent appointments to the federal bench.

Leondra Kruger stands during her confirmation hearing to theCalifornia Supreme Court in San Francisco on December 22, 2014.

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