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U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, speaks to reporters prior to a vote on an elections reform bill at Capitol Hill, June 22, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Warren Says Expand Supreme Court to Counter 'Powerful Threat to Our Democracy'

"Sen. Warren knows what needs to be done. It's time for everyone to recognize that we can have a functioning democracy or we can have the current extremist-dominated court, but we can't have both."

Andrea Germanos

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced Wednesday her support for expanding the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, warning that without such reform the court's right-wing majority would "continue to threaten basic liberties for decades to come."

"When a court consistently shows that it no longer is bound by the rule of law, Congress must exercise its constitutional authority to fix that court," the Massachusetts Democrat wrote in a Wednesday op-ed in the Boston Globe.

"The movement to expand the court is growing and we are going to win."

Making her case for why Congress should exercise its constitutional authority to change the size of the court, Warren said Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "hijacked" the court, referring to his 2016 "theft" of the seat President Barack Obama sought to fill with Merrick Garland and his 2020 move "breaking his own 'rule' barring votes on justices in an election year" when he rammed through right-wing Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation.

"This Republican court-packing has undermined the legitimacy of every action the current court takes," she said, and the court itself "leans into extremism and partisanship."

Warren backed up her assertion with a handful of recent cases:

This radical court has reversed century-old campaign-finance restrictions, opening the floodgates for corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to buy our elections. It has reversed well-settled law that once required employers to permit union organizers to meet with workers. It has trampled on the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection by upholding a racist Muslim ban. It has twisted the law to deny Americans their right to a day in court, despite the clear intent of Congress. And it has gutted one of the most important civil rights laws of our time, the Voting Rights Act, not once but twice.

Current cases before the court, which has a "supercharged" 6-3 conservative majority, affecting abortion rights, gun regulation, and the government's ability to address the climate emergency make the case for expansion all the more clear, she said. 

"Conservative justices' recent decisions and their apparent appetite to overturn decades of precedent underscore one important truth," wrote Warren. "This court’s lawlessness is a powerful threat to our democracy and our country."

In a video summing up her case for court expansion, Warren said she's co-sponsoring Sen. Ed Markey's (D-Mass.) Judiciary Act of 2021, S.1141, which would add four seats, creating a 13-justice Supreme Court. The Senate bill has one other co-sponsor—Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota—while a companion measure in the House has 45 co-sponsors.

In a Wednesday tweet, Markey welcomed the development.

"The Supreme Court is broken with McConnell and [former President Donald] Trump's stolen, far-right majority," said Markey. "The movement to expand the court is growing and we are going to win."

Warren's announcement was also welcomed by Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of progressive group Indivisible.

"Sen. Warren knows what needs to be done," she said. "It's time for everyone to recognize that we can have a functioning democracy or we can have the current extremist-dominated court, but we can't have both."

Indivisible is among a number of organizations that have called for the court's expansion. Another group, Stand Up America, reiterated its call last week after the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to Texas' abortion law brought forth by the Biden administration.

That decision, said the group's executive director, Christina Harvey, "made clear the need for Congress and President [Joe] Biden to act on Supreme Court expansion—for the sake of rebalancing the ideological scale of the court and protecting our fundamental rights."

Referring to the proposed Judiciary Act, she said, "It's time for Congressional Democrats to make it a priority before it's too late."

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