As Right-Wing Judiciary Thrashes Democracy, Dems Reintroduce Bill to Expand US Supreme Court

"Our freedom to make decisions about our lives, bodies, and futures is at stake," said the head of Planned Parenthood, which supports the legislation. "Everything is on the line: abortion rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, our democratic institutions, and our bodily autonomy."

By Brett Wilkins | 16 May 2023
Common Dreams

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Citing a “crisis of legitimacy” they say is plaguing the U.S. Supreme Court, a group of congressional Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced legislation aimed at thwarting Republican attacks on democracy by expanding the nation’s top court from nine to 13 justices.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Judiciary Act outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., where they held a press conference.

“The nation’s highest court today faces a crisis of legitimacy that began when Senate Republicans first abandoned norms and precedent to block the confirmation of then-President [Barack] Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, only to later ram through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett a mere 10 days before Election Day 2020, and while millions of Americans were already casting ballots,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

“The stolen, far-right Supreme Court majority has since ruled to destroy 50 years of settled precedent by rolling back the fundamental right to abortion care in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and has become the subject of scandal, including new and resurfaced reports of Justice Clarence Thomas‘ failure to disclose gifts provided to him by billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow and his spouse’s more than $680,000 in unreported income from the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation,” the statement noted.

Markey contended that “Republicans have hijacked the confirmation process and stolen the Supreme Court majority—all to appeal to far-right judicial activists who for years have wanted to wield the gavel to roll back fundamental rights.”

“Each scandal uncovered, each norm broken, each precedent-shattering ruling delivered is a reminder that we must restore justice and balance to the rogue, radical Supreme Court,” he argued. “It is time we expand the court.”

Johnson said that “it’s easy to take for granted that the number of justices on the Supreme Court must be nine. But it is not written in the Constitution and has changed seven times over the course of our nation’s history.”

“Thirteen justices would mean one justice per circuit court of appeals, consistent with how the number of justices was originally determined, so each justice can oversee one circuit,” Johnson added.

Bush asserted that “the Supreme Court is a cesspool of corruption devastating our communities. Because of the decisions made by an unethical and illegitimate majority, my constituents are unable to access abortion care, have weaker labor protections, are more vulnerable to voter suppression, and are subjected to a racist legal system.”

“As lawmakers, we have a mandate to ensure our rights are not stripped away by bought-and-paid-for judges trying to implement a fascist agenda,” she added. “I’m proud to lead on the reintroduction of the Judiciary Act, which would expand the court and help us reclaim our democracy once and for all.”

The bill’s sponsors were joined at Tuesday’s press conference by leaders of advocacy groups backing the bill, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, League of Conservation Voters, Demand Justice, and Stand Up America.

“The Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis. In recent years, right-wing justices on the court have disregarded long-standing precedent and undermined Americans’ fundamental freedoms,” Sean Eldridge, founder and president of the advocacy group Stand Up America, said in a statement. “Now, reported ethics violations by conservative justices have raised serious questions about the Supreme Court’s ability to impartially administer justice. It’s no wonder 6 in 10 Americans say they don’t have confidence in the Supreme Court.”

“The American people need bold action to protect our freedoms and the legitimacy of the Supreme Court,” he continued. “Sen. Markey and Rep. Johnson have heeded the call by reintroducing the Judiciary Act. This urgently needed legislation would rebalance the court to protect our fundamental freedoms and uphold long-standing precedents.”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson warned that “our freedom to make decisions about our lives, bodies, and futures is at stake. Everything is on the line: abortion rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, our democratic institutions, and our bodily autonomy.”

“Our courts should function as the backstop to protecting and advancing our rights, but have, instead, been misused by people pushing deeply unpopular agendas to implement their dangerous endgame,” McGill Johnson said. “Planned Parenthood Federation of America is proud to endorse this legislation and we are committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with our partners to achieve bold changes to our courts, and fight for real justice for all people.”

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