(Washington, DC: February 19, 2016) Kamala Harris, the first ever person of Indian Origin to win a state wide election in the state of California, and now considered a favorite to win the US Senate race in the same state, has doused speculation that she may be on President Obama’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees, saying during a campaign event at a San Jose union hall that while she is flattered to have her name mentioned, she has no interest in the job at this time.
Harris’ name as a possible Supreme Court nominee arose shortly after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday. Harris addressed the speculation almost immediately when she appeared before the union members, insisting she “was not putting my name out there.” It was her first public event since Scalia’s death.
While presenting the Attorney General’s annual California Data Breach Report at Stanford University, Harris said, “I’m not interested,” she politely told an inquiring television news reporter. As the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, Harris is an appealing prospect for those pushing for more diversity on the Supreme Court. But it would have been extremely difficult for a liberal politician from California to survive what is expected to be a bruising confirmation process in the Republican-led Senate.
Harris, 51, said her focus is on her current job and her campaign to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. “I’m not putting my name in for consideration. I do not wish to be considered. I am running for the United States Senate,” Harris emphatically told reporters after the union rally.
According to reports, Harris didn’t say who she wants the president to nominate, but suggested it should be someone with “practical life experience.” She also would favor a nominee who would protect abortion rights, and marriage equality for same-sex couples, she said.
“Maybe I’m biased, but I’d like to see someone who’s actually seen the impact of the court and the rulings of the court. Someone who’s thinking of it not just in a way that is theoretical, but … how these laws and these rulings affect real people,” she said.
Karris, a progressive, has always been in the forefront of Civil Rights, Equality and Openness. Harris used herself as an example, saying that she never would have been elected were it not for the not for the educational opportunities she received because of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that found segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. Harris said that ruling allowed her to be a member of the second class that integrated Berkeley public schools in the 1960s.
She criticized the current Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling that struck down a key part of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, ending federal oversight of election laws in Southern states. Harris said the court “gutted it” and she vowed, if elected to the Senate, to work to reinstate those voter protections that civil rights advocates credit for with transforming the South by ensuring blacks could vote. The attorney general also criticized members of the Senate Republican leadership who vowed to block any Supreme Court nominee put forth by the Democratic president.
“I think the Republicans have been outrageous on this issue. Outrageous,” Harris said. “This president is going to be in office through January of next year. We, as Americans, deserve to have a fully-staffed United States Supreme Court. There are very important issues before the Supreme Court right now.”
California’s primary is set for June 7. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. Leading in the polls and with two victories in statewide elections under her belt, Harris is the front-runner in the Senate race. Her top Democratic rival is Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange. Their Republican challengers include Tom Del Beccaro and George “Duf” Sundheim, both Bay Area attorneys who were former chairmen of the California Republican Party.
Former Obama White House advisor David Axelrod mentioned the possibility of a Harris nomination on a weekend news show, and Harris’ name has popped up on hypothetical lists from the New York Times, Associated Press, USA Today, the National Law Journal and the wonky but well-regarded SCOTUSblog.
“Kamala Harris would be an unusual choice — most recent appointments have been federal court of appeals judges — but a plausible one,” said Erwin Chemerinksy, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law. “However, there are so many plausible names. I doubt anyone has inside information so it is just all speculation.”
She is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., and earned her law degree at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Harris as a veteran prosecutor and astute, ambitious political leader. Harris also has been a strong Obama supporter since he was a U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois.
For more than a decade, she worked as a prosecutor in Alameda County and San Francisco, and tried cases involving charges of drunk driving, sex crimes, assault and homicide. Her transition to electoral politics began in 2003 during her successful campaign to unseat San Francisco Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan. Harris was elected attorney general in 2010, narrowly beating L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, a Republican. She was reelected in 2014 by a wide margin.
Her parents divorced when Harris was a toddler and her late mother, who was a breast cancer researcher at UC Berkeley, raised Harris and her sister, Maya, to be proud African American women during a tumultuous time in the United States. Harris was a student in the second class to integrate Berkeley’s public schools in the late 1960s. Her sister has served as advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Harris’ national profile got a boost when Obama gave her a speaking role at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. The headlines continued in 2013 when Obama apologized publicly for having described her as “the best-looking” attorney general in the country.
For all her demographic and political strengths, Harris does not come from the judicial realm. She has staked out liberal positions on issues that would raise the ire of Republican Senate leaders who already have warned Obama to leave the nomination to the next president.
Throughout her political career, Harris has articulated clear positions on many controversial, divisive issues that could come before the nation’s high court. Harris favors the protection of abortion rights, an end to the federal ban on medical marijuana and a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. She backs major changes in the criminal justice system, in part to address racial disparities, including shorter sentences for low-level drug crimes and a shift in government funding from prisons to crime prevention.
As attorney general, Harris has taken actions conservatives would no doubt take issue with during a Senate confirmation hearing, should one ever occur: She refused to defend Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage in California until the U.S. Supreme Court found it unconstitutional. Harris defended a state law that required members of public employee unions to help pay for collective bargaining. A case challenging those requirements — Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Assn. — is pending in the Supreme Court and could yield a 4-4 decision in Scalia’s absence. Harris, who has been supported politically by the California Teachers Assn., appealed a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge’s ruling in the case of Vergara vs. California, which threw out the state’s tenure process for grade school teachers. Harris criticized a federal appeals court for rejecting Obama’s executive actions on immigration, a case that is also pending before the Supreme Court.
Harris has brushed aside the speculation, although questions about the issue will follow her during her ongoing campaign for U.S. Senate ahead of California’s June 7 primary. “While the attorney general is honored to be mentioned in these conversations, she’s committed to her current job and continuing her fight for California families in the U.S. Senate,” campaign spokesman Nathan Click said Monday. Harris declared: “I am running for Senate.”