Joe Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona

U.S. President Joe Biden is joined by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (L) as he announces new actions to protect borrowers after the Supreme Court struck down his student loan forgiveness plan in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on June 30, 2023 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Biden Is Wrong to Oppose Supreme Court Reform

With a majority of the public now alienated by the reactionary, corrupt Supreme Court, it’s time for Democrats to turn the tables. Leadership must come from the White House.

On the very day last week that The Supreme Court overturned affirmative action and the day before it outlawed Biden’s signature student loan program and gave businesses the right to discriminate against gay people, Biden told Nicolle Wallace that while SCOTUS is not “normal” he opposes court reform because it would “politicize the court in a way that’s not healthy.”

Sorry Joe, but that ship sailed decades ago. The current Court is not just “not normal” but a corrupt, unelected, thoroughly politicized right-wing Republican institution with lifetime appointments that will continue to impose its reactionary vision on the nation for decades to come.

An Unchecked Court

Unchecked, the Court will continue to ignore precedent, take away longstanding Constitutional rights from women, Blacks and other minorities, allow businesses to discriminate against disfavored groups, block the President from doing anything significant about climate change, student debt and just about anything else significant, and overturn common sense gun safety laws.

It’s time for President Biden to put away his butter knife and take out his AR-15 to run against the reactionary, corrupt Supreme Court.

For decades, Democrats have brought a butter knife while Republicans have brought AR-15s to the fight over the courts. Republicans have packed the court with right-wing extremists; refused to give Merrick Garland a hearing; confirmed Amy Coney Barrett while citizens had already begun voting in the 2020 election; confirmed Brett Kavanaugh (and Clarence Thomas) despite credible accusations of sexual harassment; and let Justices take personal financial benefits from right-wing billionaire donors. In his comments opposing court reform, President Biden pulled out the same old butter knife again.

What Does Court Reform Look Like?

Activists demand Supreme Court expansion

Activists for expanding the U.S. Supreme Court rally outside the nation's highest court in Washington, D.C. on June 22, 2022.

(Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Demand Justice)

There are credible proposals for court reform on the table that Biden is refusing to acknowledge. For example over 60 Senate and House members just reintroduced the Judiciary Act of 2023 that would unpack the court by adding four seats to the U.S. Supreme Court, bringing the bench from nine to 13 justices. Sponsors include Senators Ed Markey, Tina Smith and Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Jerry Nadler, Hank Johnson, Cori Bush and Adam Schiff.

A coalition of over 40 grassroots organizations called Just Majority support the bill including: Alliance for Justice; American Constitution Society; Black Voters Matter; Center for Popular Democracy Action; Color of Change; Demand Justice; Demos; Greenpeace USA; Guns Down America; Indivisible; Justice Democrats; Latino Victory Project; League of Conservation Voters; MoveOn; NARAL National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum; People for the American Way; Planned Parenthood; Public Citizen; Sunrise Movement; Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence; and Women's March.

According to an Indivisible spokesperson:

“Court expansion is the best chance we have to bring our Supreme Court back from the brink. We’re not calling for expansion because we have passing disagreements with the conservative supermajority. We’re calling for it because our democracy and our fundamental freedoms are at stake. This is a majority that has gutted the Voting Rights Act repeatedly, allowed radical gerrymandering of our congressional maps that undermine the political power of Black and brown folks, and possibly most horrifyingly, has overturned Roe v. Wade and thrown our ability to receive abortion care into utter chaos nationwide. This cannot continue. The only way to save the Supreme Court is to expand it. The American people deserve a Court that’s beholden to the law and the constitution, not billionaire MAGA donors who offer free trips on private jets.”

Another strong court reform proposal comes from The Brennan Center—Term limits for Supreme Court justices to replace lifetime tenure in which Justices serve for decades. As with the proposal to add Justices, Term Limits could be enacted by a majority vote of Congress signed by the President.

Under the Brennan Center’s Term Limits proposal justices would sit in staggered 18-year terms of active service on the Supreme Court, with a new vacancy opening every two years. Each president would have two, and only two, appointments during a four-year term. When a Justice’s term is up, the Justice would move to senior status under which s/he would by designation hear cases in the lower federal courts, and occasionally step in to hear cases on the Supreme Court’s docket upon a recusal by an active justice or an unexpected vacancy. As The Brennan Center writes, “Limiting the justices to specific terms would ensure that every president has an equal imprint on the Court and create more opportunities to appoint new justices that reflect changing demographics and the sentiments of many different communities.”

All but one state supreme court in America has either fixed terms or mandatory retirement, and so do constitutional courts in every other major democratic country in the world. America’s lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices stands out as the sole outlier among worldwide democracies. A new study estimates that without reform, the Court won’t have a majority of Democratic appointees again until 2065.

While court expansion and term limits are compatible, term limits may have a better chance of of being enacted.

Court Reform Is Popular

Student loan advocates gather for a rally outside U.S. Supreme CourtStudent loan borrowers and advocates gather for a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on February 28, 2023.(Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for People's Rally to Cancel Student Debt )

Polls show that only 30% of voters approve of the Court. Over 2/3 of respondents (67%) support term limits including 82% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans.

Even Nancy Pelosi endorsed court reform this week, supporting term limits and leaving the door open to court expansion.

It’s time for President Biden to put away his butter knife and take out his AR-15 to run against the reactionary, corrupt Supreme Court. Republicans have successfully run against the court for decades, mobilizing particularly Christian fundamentalists with promises to overturn abortion rights and limit rights for minorities and the LGBTQ + community.

The Time Is Now

With a majority of the public now alienated by the reactionary, corrupt Supreme Court, it’s time for Democrats to turn the tables. In addition to defending democracy and supporting economics from the middle out instead of the top down, in 2024 Democrats should aggressively run against the Supreme Court and call for reforms. In light of Dobbs and now the affirmative action, student loan and bad gay rights decisions, this could particularly mobilize minority voters and young voters who Democrats need to inspire to turn out in large numbers.

President Biden must change his naïve institutionalist view opposing court reform and join the majority of the public, grassroots organizations, congressional leaders in making the corrupt reactionary Supreme Court and court reform a major issue in 2024.

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