Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made a sizable error Thursday when he claimed that the Supreme Court was made up of all white men before 1981, when Ronald Reagan tapped Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman to join the high bench.
Schumer (D-NY) had been giving remarks on the Senate floor defending President Biden’s stated intention to choose a black woman to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, calling it “historic.”
“Until 1981, this powerful body, the Supreme Court, was all white men,” Schumer said. “Imagine. America wasn’t all white men in 1981, or ever.
“Under President Biden and this Senate majority, we’re taking historic steps to make the courts look more like the country they serve by confirming highly qualified, diverse nominees,” Schumer went on.
One problem: Schumer forgot about Thurgood Marshall, who argued several cases before the Supreme Court — winning the famous decision in Brown v. Board of Education — before noted Democratic President Lyndon Johnson nominated him to be the first black justice.
Marshall spent 24 years on the Supreme Court before retiring in 1991. He was replaced by Clarence Thomas, the second African American to become a Supreme Court justice.
Schumer later copped to his error, tweeting that he “misspoke.” By that time, however, dozens of social media users had emphatically reminded him of his mistake.
“How do you forget Thurgood Marshall during Black history month? Especially if you are not just a Democrat, but Senate Majority Leader,” tweeted bestselling author Michael Arceneaux. “And who wrote this speech?”
“Three hours since @SenSchumer made this egregious, silly mistake — apparently ad-libbed — forgetting Justice Thurgood Marshall during Black History Month — and no correction from him or his staff,” commentator Keith Olbermann posted about half an hour before Schumer tweeted his apology.
“You mean 1967? @chuckschumer needs to check his history book. He forgot about Thurgood Marshall who was a trailblazer and the first Black American appointed to the Supreme Court. #BlackHistoryMonth,” added the Republican Party of Florida.
Bloomberg Opinion writer Robert George also called out Schumer’s slip-up by using the Black History Month hashtag saying, “Um, what now? Apparently, even U.S. senators need some remedial education in #BlackHistoryMonth.”
Uriel Epshtein, Director of the Renew Democracy Initiative, called the mistake “cringe.”
“It’s not only that he failed to recognize that Thurgood Marshall was nominated in 1967. It’s the general approach that identity matters above all else – including jurisprudence… (Also would Brandeis have been considered ‘white’ when he was nominated in 1916?)” he tweeted, referencing Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court justice.
Some accused the Senate Majority Leader of “erasing” Marshall from memory.
“He forgot about Thurgood Marshall. He erased this black Supreme Court justice from his whitewashed recollection. Funny how Democrats forget the names and identities of blacks once they no longer have any use for them,” conservative author and activist Dinesh D’Souza tweeted.
Michelle Goodwin, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, alleged that Schumer’s mistake pointed to a greater problem of diversity on the court.
“There was only one person of color — Justice Marshall — on the Supreme Court at the time [of] O’Connor’s confirmation in 1981 — and Marshall was the first. A second would not be appointed until his retirement,” she tweeted.
Late last month, Biden confirmed his first nominee to the high court would be a qualified black woman — in keeping with a promise he made during his presidential campaign.
Several Republicans have criticized the requirement, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) calling it “offensive.”
The White House has hit back at the characterization, pointing out that former President Donald Trump vowed to nominate a woman to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a promise Trump kept by nominating current Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
“The President’s view is that after 230 years of the Supreme Court being in existence, the fact that not a single black woman has served on the Supreme Court is a failure in the process, not a failure — or a lack of qualified black women to serve as Supreme Court justices,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week.