Clyburn's 2020 endorsement helped Biden secure the Democratic nomination | Credit: Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

S.C. judge among those rumored to fill vacancy

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s mid-debate nudge of then-candidate Joe Biden to pledge to nominate a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court looms large this week with the news of a pending court vacancy.

Justice Stephen Breyer announced Wednesday he would retire at the end of the current Supreme Court term, which will likely come in late spring. That sets up a confirmation battle in Washington, with Democratic control of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

With South Carolina’s 2020 Democratic primary still up in the air, and as Biden seemed aimless in the Feb. 25 debate, Clyburn rushed back stage during a break to urge his longtime Capitol Hill colleague to make a public commitment that could push him over the edge.

A new excerpt from Lucky, an upcoming book by reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes tells the tale:

He made a beeline for the backstage area. Pete Buttigieg approached to greet the most powerful Democrat in South Carolina politics. Clyburn brushed Mayor Pete aside. His eyes darted around, and he finally found Biden.

They huddled together out of earshot of the other candidates. There wasn’t much time until Biden had to be back onstage for the final segment of the debate.

“You’ve had a couple of opportunities to mention naming a Black woman to the Supreme Court,” Clyburn lectured his friend of nearly half a century, like a schoolteacher scolding a child. “I’m telling you, don’t you leave the stage tonight without making it known that you will do that.”

Biden went on to make the pledge, earn Clyburn’s endorsement the next day, win the primary and eventually win in November.

Clyburn’s office did not respond to a request for reaction as of publication time. But U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who marshaled former President Donald Trump’s past two confirmations as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Democrats would have the ability to confirm a new justice if they want.

“Elections have consequences, and that is most evident when it comes to fulfilling vacancies on the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

S.C. federal judge among those rumored for Supreme Court vacancy

The South Carolina connections don’t stop with Clyburn. U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, based in Columbia, is among the sitting jurists that could be on Biden’s short list to replace Breyer, according to the Associated Press (AP). Childs has served on the U.S. District Court since being nominated in 2009 by former President Barack Obama.

Biden recently nominated Childs to a post at the federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., a frequent stopover for future Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Per AP, other names that could appear on Biden’s short list include: California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and prominent civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill.