This weekend, the nation will honor the legacy of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg’s vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: ‘The fate of our rights’ depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE, who passed away at age 87; soon thereafter, the Biden campaign must seize the moment and stake out a landmark candidate to replace the beloved jurist. It must be a nominee who advances the cause of racial and gender justice and quells Republican efforts to bum-rush a replacement.
What it means is that the Biden campaign cannot simply propose to nominate a woman of traditional qualifications for the court. If it is to make history, then it must spotlight a woman who embodies the dream of the civil rights movement. That person is former First Lady Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama.
As the nation grapples with protest for racial justice, Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaNational Urban League, BET launch National Black Voter Day The Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association – White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – Don’t expect a government check anytime soon MORE is best positioned to symbolize the Afro-American promise. Her roots in the authentic experience of the Black urban migration connects her story to the story of pioneer civil rights figures like Mary McLeod Bethune. Bethune rose from humble origins on a cotton plantation in South Carolina to found the Bethune-Cookman Institute in Daytona Beach, Fla., and to become an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression.
In Michelle Obama, concerned Americans would be comforted by her well-known intellectual acumen and dedication to the goals of equal justice with fairness. She is singularly qualified to occupy the seat that inherits the ideals of Justice Ginsburg.
As the only African American First Lady, Mrs. Obama fostered one of the most welcoming and inclusive White House cultures in history and spoke out frequently on behalf of the rights of women and girls. She initiated the “Let’s Move” program to combat childhood obesity, “Joining Forces” to rally support for military families, and “Reach Higher,” an initiative to encourage young people to pursue vocational and college educations.
Moreover, she brings insight as a Black woman of dark complexion who struggled to be confident in a society that values whiteness and lightness. Like the abolitionist Sojourner Truth, she learned to “sell the shadow to support the substance” of life as a Black mother and professional woman. And like the abolitionist leader, she learned to temper her emotions in order to grow as a national voice for racial and gender equality.
No one would ever mistake Michelle Obama as a concession to the inclusive sensibilities of white liberals. Most Black observers recognize that she represents the moderate middle class of Chicago with its sense of pride. It is a community that historically has stood for the values of education, industry, self-reliance, mutual cooperation and small business enterprise. Until the recent rise of a capable political class in Georgia, Chicago was the most accomplished Black community in the country.
Her story is well-known because of her popular autobiography, “Becoming.” She grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Her father was a hard-working pump operator for the Water Department, despite struggles with the crippling disease of multiple sclerosis. Her mother stayed at home to raise Michelle and her older brother, Craig.
She graduated from public schools and studied sociology and African American studies at Princeton University. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988, she joined the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin, where she later met Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg’s vacancy until after election Senate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg Cruz: Trump should nominate a Supreme Court justice next week MORE. She went on to work as assistant commissioner of planning and development in City Hall and as executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program that prepares youth for public service.
In 1996, she joined the University of Chicago as associate dean of student services, and then as the vice president of community and external affairs for the UC Medical Center, all while balancing the demands of work and motherhood. In short, she is the real deal.
The Biden campaign must appreciate that proposing Michelle Obama for the Supreme Court would ignite enthusiasm in the Black community and among suburban women. Moreover, it would put pressure on vulnerable Republican senators who might be solicited to support yet another problematic Trump nominee to the Supreme Court. That group would include the incumbent Republican Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies MORE (R-Maine), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies MORE (R-Ariz.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection MORE (R-Colo.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection Airline job cuts loom in battleground states MORE (R-N.C.), Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerMcSally says current Senate should vote on Trump nominee Loeffler: Trump ‘has every right’ to fill Ginsburg vacancy before election McConnell says Trump nominee to replace Ginsburg will get Senate vote MORE (R-Ga.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection Senators offer disaster tax relief bill MORE (R-Iowa) and Steven Danes (R-Mont.). Each of them would have to think twice before inciting the wrath of Black and suburban women voters in their states.
The Biden campaign would be foolish in the extreme to allow this historic moment to pass. One could argue that all the campaign needs to do at this time is float her name as a leading candidate on a list of candidates under consideration. She need not even comment on the proposal other than to say that she is flattered to be in the mix. That precedent would add star power to the Biden campaign and lay the groundwork for a landmark nomination.
Shirley Chisolm was a pioneering New York congresswoman and candidate for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. An observation she made in her 1970 autobiography, “Unbought and Unbossed,” may be relevant to the promise of Michelle Obama on the Supreme Court — “It is not female egotism to say that the future of mankind may very well be ours to determine. It is a fact.”
Roger House, Ph.D., is an associate professor of American studies at Emerson College in Boston. Since 2014, he has published VictoryStride.com, a multimedia library resource on African American history and culture. He has produced radio programs on African American history for NPR, and is the author of “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy.”
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