President Biden needs to understand that identity politics is not enough

By Justin Chen, Podcast Host

Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement on Jan. 27, 2022.

In a letter addressed to President Biden, Breyer says that he will retire during the summer reset, which usually takes place between July and August. The liberal justice also expressed his appreciation for serving as part of the high court for the past 28 years by saying that he found the job “challenging and meaningful.”

As the Clinton-appointed justice announced his retirement, President Biden is set to nominate the first Supreme Court Justice in his presidency.

On the same day, President Biden announced that he will nominate the first African American woman justice, which he believes the country is “long overdue” for.

And he’s right. The U.S. Supreme Court is not at all racially diversified. There is only one African American justice that serves at the high court, and only one Latiné justice. The majority are white. 

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The high court lacks female representation as well, since only three women justices serve on the high court. This does not represent the U.S. demographic at all, and I applaud President Biden’s thoughtfulness on having more representation.

However, the president must remember that identity politics is not enough, especially on nomination for crucial Supreme Court positions where justices can serve for their entire lives. 

To be clear, identity politics can involve any political candidate whose pre-political background adds to their campaign. In the charged environment the U.S. lives in today, identity politics mostly involve conversations of race, class, and gender. Representation is important either way, but it doesn’t always make a candidate. The values and qualifications of the candidate make the candidate.  

The president needs to provide oversight on the qualification of the potential nominee. The high court is so important for the United States because they determine whether certain policies are constitutional or not. They decide the law of the land, and in doing so, they drastically influence our lives.

One promising example that explains the importance of the Supreme Court is the case of Obergefell v. Hodges where the court declared same-sex marriage constitutional and now, I can legally marry my boyfriend and start a family like a heterosexual couple has always been able to. Without the right person, this law would have never been ruled in, and my life would be dramatically different than what it is right now.

We have seen many examples on how identity politics can go wrong. One prominent example is the result of former President Donald Trump.

President Trump was an attractive candidate to many––and ended up being elected––due to his identity as an outsider. He vowed to ‘drain’ the D.C. swamp, painting this rosy “Make America Great Again” picture. However, Trump’s lack of qualification, and the fact that he is a terrible person, was ruining the country and pulling people further apart from each other politically.

He constantly attacked “the other side,” the media, and some of the members from his own party. He drew racist rhetoric more times than we can count by saying there were “good people on both sides” regarding the infamous white-supremacist parade in Charlottesville.

From Trump’s lack of leadership during the initial surge of COVID-19, to his undermining of the 2020 election by claiming the election was “stolen” from him, his ignorance and greediness have kept us divided. These are the results of identity politics.

During Trump’s presidency, Washington turned to chaos and became “swampier” than ever. However, American voters voted him out, which means we have time to save our political dynamic from toxicity.

Another example is our current Vice President Kamala Harris. President Biden chose Harris as a running mate and made her become the first Black and Asian American woman to be Vice President of the United States. Although it is a large step for the African American and Asian American communities, Harris failed to address many issues that President Biden assigned her. 

Harris has faced criticism from both the left and the right due to her inaction and mishandling of immigration issues at the U.S. southern border, as the southern border is still in critical condition. Instead of flying to Rio-Grande valley where the epicenter is, the Vice-President flew to El Paso, which made her face much criticism from both sides.

Moreover, American voters disapprove of identity politics as well. According to an ABC News and Ipsos poll, 76 percent of the voters believe the president should consider all possible nominees. While many recognize the need for diversity, voters are looking for someone with a qualification for the job, not the identity of that person.

The White House must evaluate the qualification of the person on how they understand the constitution in order to sit at the high court. It is wonderful to have gender and race diversity at the high court to represent the minority population, but qualification of the position will represent our society as a whole.