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Leonard Pitts Jr.: Achieving diversity requires intentionality

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Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. Seated from left: Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Standing from left: Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images/TNS
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We don't even know the woman's name yet.

In fact, we don't know much of anything about her except that she is Black. That's not a lot, but it's more than enough for some people.

Ever since last week, when Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, and President Biden said he would keep a campaign promise to nominate an African-American woman to the court, Republicans have stumbled all over themselves to decry this terrible thing.

Like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who said on his podcast: "Black women are what, 6 percent of the U.S. population? [Biden] is saying to 94 percent of Americans, 'I don't give a damn about you, you are ineligible'."

Yeeeah, but no. By that "logic" (if you want to call it that) no one could be a Supreme Court justice. White men, after all, are just 30 percent of the population; if Biden made a group of them his de facto favorites, would that not tell 70 percent of Americans, 'I don't give a damn about you, you are ineligible"?

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Then there's former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who tweeted, "Would be nice if Pres Biden chose a Supreme Court nominee who was best qualified without a race/gender litmus test." Which conveniently overlooks the fact that Haley's former boss, that retired steak salesman from Florida, vowed to -- and did -- name a woman to the Supreme Court. For that matter, Ronald Reagan made and kept a similar vow and went on to nominate Antonin Scalia because he wanted a jurist of Italian heritage.

Which brings us to the most insidious criticism of this woman we've not yet met. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, among others, has dubbed her a "beneficiary" of the dread affirmative action.

The term, of course, refers to setting aside a coveted slot -- a job, a spot in school and now, apparently, a Supreme Court seat -- for an applicant of the preferred race or gender. Think about that and then, think about this: Since 1790, there have been 115 Supreme Court justices; five have been women, two have been African American. So it seems fair to ask who, precisely is it that has had slots set aside for them and who has not?

The same goes for the institution in which Wicker serves: 1,994 senators, 58 of them women, 11 of them Black. Is it just coincidence that white men like Wicker got the nod roughly 97 percent of the time? Were they really the best, the brightest and the most deserving?

Or did he, like thousands before him, not benefit from a tacit understanding that certain things are set aside for white men, a de facto affirmative action that clears most Americans from the competition before it even begins? And we're expected to be upset because Biden wants to name a Black woman to the High Court? Um ... no. He understands what his critics pretend not to. Which is that achieving diversity requires intentionality. If you are counting on it to simply happen by dint of white males' good intentions and pure hearts, you will be waiting a very long time.

Wicker's whining is emblematic of the moral myopia and intellectual sclerosis that too often comes from a lifetime of unearned advantage. You learn to think of it as your entitlement and any small deviation therefrom as an unbearable affront to The Way Things Are Supposed To Be. So now comes this unnamed Black woman getting some taste of the kind of preference he's enjoyed his entire life, and the senator feels put-upon. One can only marvel at the hypocrisy. Affirmative action? Oh, please.

If it weren't for that, Roger Wicker might not even have a job.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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(C)2021 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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