However, the decision on her successor was left to Gov. Gavin Newsom following her death last week.
On Sunday, Newsom announced that Laphonza Butler, the head of the pro-abortion political action committee Emily's List and former adviser to Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton, would fill the seat until the end of Feinstein's term in 2024.
This swift appointment ensures that Democrats will maintain their majority in the Senate, allowing them to have their way on judicial appointments and spending decisions. While Republicans hold 49 seats in the Senate, Democrats have a majority with their 48 seats, the two independents who caucus with them, and the third independent who frequently votes with them.
The NAACP wasted no time in urging Newsom to fulfill his promise to appoint a successor. Similarly to President Joe Biden's commitment to selecting a Supreme Court judge based on their race and gender, Newsom pledged to choose a temporary senator based on immutable characteristics, as reported by the Guardian.
This is not the first time that race has seemingly played a role in a Newsom Senate appointment. When Kamala Harris vacated her Senate seat to become vice president, Newsom selected his personal friend, former state Secretary of State Alex Padilla, to replace her, responding to calls for California's first Latino senator.
Supporters of Rep. Barbara Lee believed she was the frontrunner, as she met Newsom's two key criteria. The Congressional Black Caucus wrote to Newsom, emphasizing that Lee "is the only person with the courage, the vision, and the record to eradicate poverty, face down the fossil fuel industry, defend our democracy, and tirelessly advance the progressive agenda," according to Politico.
However, instead of selecting Lee, a black California resident, Newsom chose Butler, who resides in Silver Spring, Maryland. Anthony York, a spokesman for Newsom, stated that the governor would not prevent Butler from running in the 2024 Senate race. This means that Lee, who was trailing Schiff and Porter in recent polls, could potentially miss out on the seat twice within a year.
Newsom praised Butler in a statement, calling her "an advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris." He expressed confidence that Butler would advance the pro-abortion and gun control agendas in Washington.
Butler's background includes nearly two decades at the Service Employees International Union, serving as a California adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, and as a senior adviser to Kamala Harris during her unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaign. In 2021, she took on the role of head of Emily's List, a leftist organization that raises funds to support female lawmakers who align with the abortion agenda.
Butler has been vocal about her support for pro-choice legislation and her opposition to pro-life measures, claiming that they threaten democracy and contribute to voter suppression efforts. She has made it clear that she aims to create a uniformly Democratic state that guarantees women the right to terminate pregnancies.
In addition to her advocacy for abortion rights, Butler is an outspoken LGBT activist. Tony Hoang, the executive director of Equality California, an LGBT activist organization, praised Newsom's appointment, stating that it would give the LGBTQ+ community another voice in Congress during a time when their rights are under attack.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, known for his controversial remarks about the term "groomer" and his efforts to protect older individuals who prey on minors, also commended Newsom's decision, calling it a powerful statement, according to the New York Times.