Sen. John Kennedy went viral on Wednesday for supposedly telling fellow Senate Republicans that he wants President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee — whom Biden has said will be a Black woman — to be someone who “knows a law book from a J. Crew catalog.”
That’s according to a Politico Playbook report on a private Senate Republican luncheon on Tuesday. It noted that Kennedy, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, “didn’t exactly tamp down his rhetoric” while discussing whether it was counterproductive for the GOP to battle against Biden’s SCOTUS nominee.
““No. 1, I want a nominee who knows a law book from a J. Crew catalog. No. 2, I want a nominee who’s not going to try to rewrite the Constitution every other Thursday to try to advance a ‘woke agenda.’””
— Sen. John Kennedy
His remarks drew backlash on Twitter TWTR, -5.40% and elsewhere after the news broke on Wednesday, leading J. Crew to trend in the afternoon as readers discussed what they thought Kennedy meant by those words.
Many saw racial undertones in the catalog comment, noting that former first lady Michelle Obama, a Black woman (and Harvard Law alumna), was known for wearing a lot of J. Crew.
The senator was not immediately available for comment. He told CNN last month that, “I want a judge who understands that the Bill of Rights is not an à la carte menu. I want a judge who will not try to rewrite the Constitution every other Thursday to advance a political agenda.”
And when asked about Biden intending to pick a Black woman for the seat, in particular, Kennedy said, “I’m going to judge the nominee on his or her qualifications, on the basis of the criteria I just gave you.”
““I’m going to judge the nominee on his or her qualifications.””
— Sen. John Kennedy
It should be noted that Kennedy has uttered variations on both the “J. Crew” and “rewriting the Constitution” phrases several times before. In 2019, for example, while discussing whether then-President Donald Trump had the authority to declare a national emergency over the border wall, Kennedy told Fox News that, “Past presidents have used the National Emergencies Act 60 times. Anybody who knows an L.L. Bean catalog from a law book knows, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will give us guidance on this.”
And he used J. Crew as a comparison again in February 2020 while discussing the first impeachment articles against Trump. “Anyone who knows a law book from a J. Crew catalog does not take this charge seriously.”
More recently, he argued during a floor speech on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (the challenge to Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban) in November 2021 that: “Anyone … who knows a law book from a J. Crew catalog also knows that there’s absolutely no foundation — not in the text, not in the structure, not in the history, not in the tradition of the Constitution — for a constitutional right to abortion.”
He has also echoed his sentiment that he doesn’t want a Supreme Court nominee to to “rewrite the Constitution every other Thursday” before, including the confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh in September 2018. “I think it’s inappropriate for a federal judge to try to rewrite the Constitution every other Thursday to advance an agenda that either or his/her supporters can’t get by the voters. Do you agree with that?” he asked Kavanaugh. (Kavanaugh replied, “Yes, of course.”)
And he said the same during Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing in October 2020: “I don’t think our founders intended members of the U.S. Supreme Court to try to rewrite our statutes or the U.S. Constitution every other Thursday to prosecute a social or an economic agenda that they can’t get by the voters.”
Other Republicans have been questioning Biden’s future Supreme Court pick to fill the vacancy that will be left on the bench when Justice Stephen Breyer retires after this term. And some of these Republicans have pointedly taken issue with Biden’s promise to name a Black woman to the country’s highest court.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, called Biden’s vow to name a Black woman “offensive” because because Biden is saying that white men and women have the “wrong skin pigment and wrong Y chromosome,” which has also drawn some backlash. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said he views the process as “affirmative action.”
And Ilya Shapiro, a former Cato Institute vice president still contributing to the conservative think tank, said in a now-deleted Twitter post that Indian-American judge Sri Srinivasan should be chosen to replace Breyer instead of a “lesser black woman.” He was placed on leave from Georgetown University a day before he was scheduled to begin serving as senior lecturer and executive director for the law school’s Center for the Constitution.
The Supreme Court was made up entirely of white men for almost two centuries, and Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Thurgood Marshall have been the only Black men to serve on the high court. There has never been a Black female Supreme Court Justice.
This article has been updated with more context about Sen. John Kennedy’s comments.