President Biden Promised to Nominate a Black Woman to the Supreme Court: Meet the Women Fighting to Make it Happen 

She Will Rise, an initiative led by a cohort of Black women, is focused on ensuring a Black woman is appointed to the Supreme Court for the first time

Kim Tignor
Kim Tignor. Photo: She Will Rise

Pressure from progressive groups is mounting for Justice Stephen Breyer to retire from the Supreme Court, making way for the first Black woman to be nominated to the position, as pledged by President Joe Biden.

She Will Rise, an initiative led by a cohort of Black women, wants to make sure that promise is kept.

"He's doing what white men do in power: They keep it," says Sabriya I. Williams, one of the four She Will Rise founders, of Breyer's resistance.

"Frederick Douglass said, 'Power concedes nothing without a demand,' " adds co-founder April Reign in a joint interview with PEOPLE. "We understand that these are lifetime appointments, right? But just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean that you should."

Breyer has made it clear that politics should not influence when he retires.

"My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart," the justice said while presenting a lecture at Harvard Law School this spring, according to the New York Times. "They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment."

April Reign
April Reign. She Will Rise

Like other progressive groups, the women behind She Will Rise — Reign, Williams, Kim Tignor and Brandi Colander — recognize the danger a Biden nominee could face if Democrats lose control of the Senate after the 2022 midterm elections. There is also the possibility that Breyer, who has served as a liberal voice on the courts for nearly 27 years, could be replaced by a conservative nominee if he waits to step down during a Republican administration.

This happened just last fall. After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death in September 2020, then President Donald Trump picked conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett as her successor, a controversial and fast-paced decision that was pushed through just before the 2020 presidential election.

"If [Justice Breyer's appointment] goes longer and if we don't sustain power—and, God forbid, he has to retire or something happens—then someone else is appointed who is not aligned with the values of the majority of the country," explains Williams, who has worked as an outreach manager and events coordinator for the Office of Minority Health and the Department of Health and Human Services. "And then all of the rights for marginalized communities are in peril."

Justice Stephen Breyer
Justice Stephen Breyer. ERIN SCHAFF/POOL/AFP via Getty

She Will Rise is focused on ensuring a Black woman is appointed to the Supreme Court for the first time. They've started a petition and have a massive social media presence. But that's just the beginning. The founders hope to lift up other Black women so the path to the Supreme Court and other judicial appointments becomes easier. (They've created a tracker so people can learn more about the Black women who are being nominated as federal judges across the country.)

"A lot of people feel like it's a luxury to be able to think about these things," says Colander, who previously served as deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior. "And that they are ivory tower institutions that folks don't have a lot of access to. There are truths there.

"But I think what we're trying to remind people of is that, from a demographic perspective, to ignore the voice and perspective of Black women... comes at the detriment of society," she continues. "Because we're not taking into account their perspectives, their lived experiences and the inequities and the costs associated with that."

Brandi Collander
Brandi Colander. She Will Rise

Tignor, who is the executive director for the Institute for Intellectual Property & Social Justice, founded She Will Rise with the other women because they all have a common goal. All mothers, with a range of rich backgrounds in law and social justice advocacy, the women believe it's imperative "to address the underrepresentation of Black women in the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court," says Reign, the CEO of ReignStorm Ventures who launched the #OscarsSoWhite movement.

"How is it that one of the most engaged voting demographics, Black women, is still underrepresented in every branch of the government?" Tignor said in a statement. "The answer: the intersection of sexism and racism just hits different. It hits harder, it hits uglier, and from all angles."

The women hope that one day the Supreme Court will accurately reflect the demographics of the United States, and make decisions that are best for Americans of all races, gender identities, faiths and backgrounds. Black women should have a say in "every single issue" that is deliberated over in the Supreme Court, from the environment and health care to voting rights, the founders explain. Reign says the current attack on voting rights by Republicans, who are implementing laws that impact the voting access of marginalized communities, is "very scary."

"How do we counter that? We get out in the streets," she says. "We try to get our voices heard, but without representation, nothing's going to change."

Sabriya Williams
Sabriya Williams. She Will Rise

The founders are encouraged by President Biden following through on his pledge to make his Cabinet the most diverse in U.S. history, though they say more can always be done.

"Until the inside represents the outside, meaning until the administration represents the demographics that we have in this country, then more work can be done," says Reign. "And I'm not just talking about race and ethnicity. I'm not just talking about gender, but also sexual orientation, visible and invisible disabilities, Native American and Indigenous people to this country."

They are inspired by Vice President Kamala Harris — the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent to hold the position. She, too, understands the importance of supporting fellow Black women.

RELATED VIDEO: Kamala Harris Sworn in as the First Female Vice President

Colander emailed the former senator when she was in law school, requesting if she and two of her classmates could meet with her. What was supposed to be a thirty-minute meeting turned into an hour-and-a-half chat.

"It just was so powerful to have someone hold the space for us to do that," Colander says. "I would love to see her on the Supreme Court one day. I think her life is long and will have a lot of legacy."

Just like Harris made history when she became vice president, the She Will Rise founders want to impact the history of the Supreme Court—and have goals that extend beyond the appointment of the first Black woman.

"While we are still waiting for the first, it will not be the last, right?" says Colander. "This is designed to be able to help make sure that America is more representative. We've done it in other sectors, so we know it's going to happen. It's just a matter of when, but we're ready."

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