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How Biden's Pledge To Pick Black Female Justice Could Play Out With Voters

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Well, it's clear that one major factor in the battle over the Supreme Court vacancy is how the new occupant of the seat could affect the decisions of the court far into the future. It's also clear that another major factor is how the court battle will play out with voters now. That was made abundantly clear from exit polling from the 2016 election that showed that 26% of Trump voters cited Supreme Court nominations as the biggest factor in their candidate choice compared with 18% of Clinton voters.

So what about now? We've called A'Shanti Gholar for this. She's the president of Emerge. That's a group working to elect Democratic women. And here, we want to focus in particular on Black voters, whose turnout tends to be critical to the success of Democrats.

A'Shanti Gholar, thanks so much for joining us once again.

A'SHANTI GHOLAR: Thank you for having me again.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, around a quarter of Trump voters in 2016 cited the Supreme Court as the top reason for choosing him. Fewer Democrats said that - that was 18%. Now, you could argue that Republicans had more success in making the Supreme Court a voting issue, particularly if voters - then-Republican voters had some doubts about their nominee. Do you think that that's true? And why do you think that is?

GHOLAR: I definitely think the Supreme Court was an issue for Trump voters in 2016. They talked a lot about using the courts to stop the progress that was happening that a lot of Republican voters thought about. On the Democratic side, we said that the Supreme Court was something that was also on the ballot. We didn't push it out that much. But now we definitely know that this is going to be an issue that's going to be talked about on both sides. And it's something that all voters are absolutely paying attention to.

MARTIN: It has been reported that a number of Black political strategists believe that it was a mistake for then-President Barack Obama not to nominate a qualified African American woman to the court - there's never been an African American woman on the Supreme Court - and that there are those who feel that that did affect turnout, that that affect the - kind of the excitement that some Black voters had.

And there was a falloff among Black voters between 2012 and 2016 - certainly between 2008 and 2016. Do you subscribe to that theory that that's part of the reason that the Democrat didn't prevail in 2016?

GHOLAR: There was definitely a level of upset from people that it was not a Black woman. But do I think that it had a huge impact on turnout? I really don't. One of the things that I talk about a lot is we went into the 2016 presidential election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, and that is something that definitely impacted Black voter turnout. So I don't think that if we had had a Black woman that anything would have played out differently.

MARTIN: So today at a campaign event, the Democratic nominee, the former Vice President Joe Biden, said that if he wins in November, he should be able to name Ginsburg's successor, and he said that President Trump's pick should be withdrawn. But he also repeated this pledge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: As everyone knows, I made it clear that my first choice for the Supreme Court will make history as the first African American woman justice.

MARTIN: What do you think that promise means? And I do want to point out that there is already an African American woman on the ticket - the first woman of color on a major party ticket. So do you think that that promise is important?

GHOLAR: I'm very glad that Vice President Biden is keeping his promise. This is something that he said early on. And even when he said he was going to have a woman as his vice presidential nominee, what this signals to me with how Vice President Biden is talking about not only selecting a Black woman to be his Supreme Court nominee but when he talks about his cabinet, is he's letting us know that he is surrounding himself with people that look like America.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I mean, the White House has signaled that they are going to rely on some themes that they have used in the past. I mean, the Republican convention talked a lot about President Trump's appeal to religiously conservative voters, particularly conservative Catholics. One speaker went so far as to say that Joe Biden isn't a real Catholic. And it appears that at least one of his top potential nominees is a Catholic woman.

The White House signaled that it would make this a sort of an argument about anti-Catholic bias, anti-Christian bias or bias against religiously conservative people. If that's the case, how do the Democrats answer that?

GHOLAR: It's really unfortunate that yet again, Trump and the Republican Party is going with a wedge issue. And I think that it can absolutely work against them. We know that Trump has his base. They're never going to leave him. But if you get to the point where you're telling everyday Americans that if you do not believe X, Y, Z to the T of your religion, that is something that can absolutely turn people off. You can't say that we have freedom of religion but only if you subscribe to what we subscribe to. I don't think that will play very well.

MARTIN: That was A'Shanti Gholar. She is the president of Emerge. That's a group working to elect Democratic women.

A'Shanti Gholar, thanks so much for talking to us.

GHOLAR: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF FHERNANDAOH'S "F U E G O") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.