What an incredible honor for the State of South Carolina to have one of our own considered for the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of the United States of America. President Joe Biden has confirmed that The Honorable J. Michelle Childs is on his short list of nominees. While there is some controversy over his campaign promise to place a black woman on SCOTUS, if the opportunity arose, Lindsay Graham, in a CNN interview, has pointed out that President Reagan campaigned on placing a woman there so this is not really so different or “affirmative action” as suggested by one of the Senators from Mississippi.
Judge Childs, moved to Columbia, South Carolina, at the age of 13 with her mother in 1979. Her parents had divorced a few years earlier, he a Detroit police officer and her mother a manager at Michigan Bell. She reports her father passed in 1980 from “gunshot wounds” which she referred to in a speech at an Orangeburg middle school in 2018, saying ”gun violence has a devastating impact on American children and teenagers.”
She represents the best of SC public education, having graduated valedictorian and class president from a racially integrated high school in Columbia. She earned a full scholarship to the University of South Florida, graduating with honors. While there she won Miss Black Florida which led to her first foray into the practice of law. The pageant director failed to deliver on the prizes associated with the title, so she took him to court and won. She returned to SC and attended the Law School of the University of South Carolina. Her legal career began at Nexsen Pruet, LLC, in Columbia, making partner in under a decade, its first black female partner. One of the only other women in the firm, Vickie Eslinger, Esquire, is quoted in a recent NPR article that “Nobody thought of her as a woman lawyer or a black lawyer, just a really first-rate lawyer who would get the job done.”
The last Democratic governor of SC, Jim Hodges, convinced Childs to become the deputy director of the SC Department of Labor in 2002. She later became a commissioner on the SC Worker’s Compensation Commission. In 2006, the SC state legislature, then GOP-controlled, voted her to serve as state trial court judge where she became the chief administrative judge for criminal court and the designated judge for complicated business matters in the county. There, she cleaned up the three-year backlog of cases, receiving praise from both sides of the aisle. SC civil rights attorney Armand Derfner told NPR that Childs showed “great skill and courage” and pointed out she wrote a 16-page opinion explaining the numerous issues involving suppression of evidence, which most state trial judges rarely do.
President Barack Obama nominated Judge Childs for the federal trial bench in 2010, with The American Bar Association unanimously rating her “well-qualified.” She has served in the position since, with President Biden nominating her to the federal appeals court in January. With the announcement of Justice Breyer’s pending retirement, her confirmation hearing was postponed since she is under consideration for the SCOTUS. Much credit is given to SC’s Congressman Jim Clyburn for his championing Childs to President Biden. CNN reports Congressman Clyburn touting her degrees from public universities as better representation of the country than all the other Justice’s Ivy League private school educations. Senator Graham echoes that sentiment and he believes she will receive bipartisan support in the Senate. Judge Childs also has the support of the SC AFL-CIO in seeking higher office.
While presidents have attempted to have a geographically balanced Supreme Court, the last nomination for SCOTUS from SC was Associate Justice James Frances Byrnes, who served July 8, 1941, to October 3, 1942. Prior to that SC sent Associate Justice William Johnson (served 1804-1834) and Justice John Rutledge (served 1790-1795.) Religious diversity has also been a goal, yet Judge Childs would make the 8th Catholic, if appointed. Gender-wise, she would make the 4th woman currently serving alongside five male justices.
Judge Childs has one daughter with her husband, Dr. Floyd Angus, a gastroenterologist at Sumter Gastroenterology.