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Will J. Michelle Childs be the next Black Catholic on the Supreme Court?

The clock is ticking on Biden's first Supreme Court nomination. Will it be the Black Catholic from South Carolina?

(Associated Press/Charles Dharapak)

With news of the upcoming retirement of US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the rumor mill has begun to churn concerning a possible appointment in the coming weeks.

One of the names being floated, Judge J. Michelle Childs of South Carolina, is a Black Catholic.

President Joe Biden said two years ago during his presidential campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the high court if given the chance, and reiterated that commitment on Thursday when speaking with the press.

“The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court,“ he told reporters.

“It’s long overdue, in my view. I made that commitment during the campaign for President, and I will keep that commitment.”

Childs is one of several names said to be on Biden’s docket, among a big three that also includes Ketanji Brown Jackson, a DC circuit court judge appointed just last year, and Leondra Kruger, an associate justice for California’s Supreme Court since 2015.

Childs serves as a US district court judge, and has been in the post for more than a decade.

Her fellow South Carolinian, Democrat whip Jim Clyburn, specifically brought her name to the Biden administration following the inauguration early last year, passing the recommendation along to Vice President Kamala Harris.

Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, is seen as influential in the administration because of his help in securing Biden’s win in South Carolina during the 2020 election.

Biden committed last month to nominating Childs to the DC’s federal appeals court—prior to the revelation of Breyer’s plan to retire this October—and a hearing for that nomination is scheduled for next Tuesday.

Childs is a graduate of the University of South Carolina’s School of Law, and became in 1992 the first female partner at a major law firm in the state. She was nominated to her current post by President Barack Obama in 2010.

She made headlines in 2014 when she became the center of her state’s debate on same-sex marriage, wherein two women married in DC sued to have their union recognized in South Carolina. Childs ruled in their favor just 7 months before the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

In a local news story that year, Sr Roberta Fulton, SSMN—a Black nun then serving at St Martin de Porres Catholic School, a Black institution in Columbia, South Carolina on whose board Childs serves—praised her character and service.

"She is very dedicated, very gracious with her time and talent," Fulton said.

Childs was also a member of St Martin de Porres Catholic Church, a historic Black parish founded in 1935.

More recently, she ruled against GOP-led voting restrictions in her state during the re-election campaign of former president Donald Trump, and last month sided with companies seeking to terminate employees who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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