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Much like climbing a mountain, ascending to the highest court in the land is a dangerous and exhausting expedition – one that necessitates a wiser, more experienced guide.
Supreme Court “Sherpas” are an unofficial but important position in the confirmation of a prospective justice. The Sherpa is usually an accomplished, veteran lawmaker tasked with guiding the nominee through the obstacle course of interviews and hearings before their final confirmation.
President Biden announced on Feb. 1 that he has selected former Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones to guide his yet-to-be announced Supreme Court nominee through the confirmation process.
“Sherpa” is a nomadic ethnic group based largely in Nepal, Bhutan, and the Himalaya mountains. They are famed for their historic skill and wisdom navigating high altitude areas and mountain geography.
The Sherpa people have long been known for their trustworthiness in aiding foreigners seeking to climb the mountainous terrain of the Mongolian region. The term is often used generically to refer to a guide through dangerous or adverse circumstances.
The three most recently confirmed justices to the highest court have all been guided by Sherpa-types and successfully confirmed.
Former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte was designated as the Sherpa for Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed in the early months of former President Trump’s administration.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was successfully shepherded by former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, who was handpicked by the Trump administration, after a tedious confirmation battle.
Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who went through her confirmation process during the COVID-19 pandemic, was not attended by one designated Sherpa, but instead was assisted by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.
Jones, who served as a senator from Alabama from 2018 to 2021, will be tasked with prepping and rehearsing the nominee as they meet with members of the Senate ahead of their confirmation hearing.
The president met Thursday with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who will lead the confirmation process for the unnamed nominee to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. Biden has said he would make a decision by the end of February and that his choice will be a Black woman.
Sources say the White House has quietly begun the vetting process with more than a dozen names, a broad mix of federal and state jurists, academics and lawyers from groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
That includes three names consistently being given prominent consideration, say sources: D.C.-based federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs from South Carolina.
Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich, Shannon Bream and Bill Mears contributed to this report.