BREAKING: Biden to pick Brown Jackson for SCOTUS; Update: Timing explained?

BREAKING: Biden to pick Brown Jackson for SCOTUS
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Sounds like Joe Biden’s not listening to Joe Manchin’s advice. Instead of opting for Judge Michelle Childs for the Supreme Court, who had bipartisan support and Rep. James Clyburn’s endorsement, Biden will instead pick the early favorite, DC Circuit jurist Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Stephen Breyer at the end of this term:

It’s a relatively safe choice, although not the safest choice. Brown Jackson may end up getting no Republican support; she’s seen as a hard progressive, and her record will get significant scrutiny in the Senate Judiciary hearings. Brown Jackson only got 53 votes for her confirmation to the DC Circuit in June 2021, when only Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski crossed the aisle to support her. That’s clearly the ceiling on a SCOTUS confirmation vote, but 50 plus Kamala Harris would be the floor, as Manchin has already made it clear he’d support her.

This leak recalculates the PR strategy. Earlier today, Punchbowl and others reported that Biden had made his pick and the announcement could come as early as today. That prompts a question as to whether the White House intends this as a Friday afternoon document dump to avoid too much scrutiny of Brown Jackson, or as a distraction to avoid too much scrutiny of Biden’s handling of the Ukraine crisis:

President Joe Biden has decided on his nominee for the Supreme Court to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, according to a source familiar with the situation. CNN was first to report this.

The White House wants to announce the nominee today, but would hold off if the situation in Ukraine intervenes.

It makes strategic sense for the Biden administration to make this announcement today. He wouldn’t get much bounce over the weekend.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are both in town today — Harris canceled a trip to Louisiana. It would give Biden some good news in an otherwise gloomy week. It could theoretically help ensure a few days of decent press for the administration.

Would that be the case? The invasion in Ukraine will likely still lead all broadcasts and print media, because bombings of a European capital and the failure of the US and EU to prevent it are somewhat more important than a Supreme Court nomination. That may be especially true in this case, when the pick won’t change the balance of the court and will almost certainly pass no matter who Biden picks off the existing shortlist. To the extent this provides any distraction, it will only be because of some contrary narrative that might erupt when people dig into Brown Jackson’s writings and career. (Or personal life, as Brett Kavanaugh can attest.)

An announcement might have made more sense on Monday, as originally scheduled. That would kick off the weekly news cycle with a distraction after the media sated itself on Ukraine issues over the weekend, when traffic and consumer demand is lighter. Instead, by Monday the Supreme Court nomination will be exhausted as a discussion topic, leaving Ukraine for the top story all next week. In the end, we may only be discussing nuanced levels of attention from either strategy, but this one probably was the poorer choice.

Update: If Ed O’Keefe’s explanation for the timing of this announcement is correct, it’s not entirely impressive. No one’s going to care about the two-year anniversary of a debate, especially in the middle of a war in Europe. Biden would have been much smarter to have made this decision earlier in the month, especially given the intelligence on Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine.

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