Biden gets chance for reboot with black voters on Justice Breyer vacancy

US President Joe Biden has often credited Black voters with putting him in the White House. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement gives President Joe Biden a chance to mend ties with African-American voters by following through on his promise to nominate the first Black woman to the court.

With the pick, the president stands a chance of energising a key constituency before November's midterm elections, when his party will be trying to cling to its narrow majorities in Congress.

Mr Biden has often credited Black voters with putting him in the White House. But since he took office, frustration has grown among African-Americans over his failure to achieve two key priorities: Passage of legislation to overhaul US policing and to combat efforts in Republican-led states to restrict voting rights.

Democrats will need strong turnout from Black voters to win close races in the midterms.

Appointing a Black woman to the court "would go a long way toward shoring up his bona fides in the Black community, particularly given those failures around passage of voting rights legislation, the stalling of police reform in Congress and his apparent change of heart around cancelling student loans," said Mr Mario Brossard, a Democratic strategist.

Mr Biden credits South Carolina's Black voters with resuscitating his wheezing campaign when he won that state's primary in 2020.

Before that contest, Representative James Clyburn, a prominent South Carolina Democrat, endorsed Mr Biden on the promise that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Possible choices for Mr Biden include Appeals Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51; California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, 45; and federal District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs, 55, a South Carolinian backed by Mr Clyburn.

The potential nomination of a Black woman to the high court comes as Mr Biden's historic pick of economist Lisa Cook, also Black, to the US Federal Reserve faces opposition from Republicans.

Polls show that Mr Biden's approval rating among Black voters has plummeted, because of perceptions that he hasn't fought hard enough to pass legislation on voting rights and police reform, issues dear to the Black community, as he did for his infrastructure law his stalled economic plan, Build Back Better.

"It's always good politics to fulfill your campaign promises," said Mr Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.

Mr Biden carried 87 per cent of the Black vote in the 2020 presidential election.

A Jan 26 Economist/YouGov poll showed Mr Biden's approval rating among African-Americans at just 57 per cent.

Mr Biden has recently acknowledged his frayed relations with Black voters, saying that he's been unable to engage with the community as much as he would like because of myriad crises that have demanded his attention in Washington.

But the White House could also more forcefully communicate accomplishments that benefit Black voters, strategists say.

"Not every candidate said I will nominate a Black woman, my first pick will be a Black woman. I don't think any president has ever said that. He has an opportunity to put words to action and I believe that if he follows through on that you will see the base respond in kind," said Mr Kevin Harris, a Democratic strategist who was chief of staff to the Biden for President Georgia campaign.

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