"A few short years ago, we were told court expansion was a pipe dream," said one advocate. "With support from groups boldly advocating at the state level to leading national organizations, our movement is growing stronger every day."
Justice advocates marked what they called a "huge" development in the fight for court reform on Monday as Planned Parenthood joined a national coalition that's pushing for the expansion of the U.S. Supreme Court, with the president of the reproductive rights organization saying the court's "capture" by the far right calls for "structural" change.
Alexis McGill Johnson, who leads the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Monday that the group is joining Just Majority, a coalition including more than 35 groups that are currently on a nationwide tour highlighting ethics violations at the Supreme Court and how reforms including expansion could help protect democracy and secure justice on the highest judicial panel in the country.
"We should be able to make our own decisions about our lives, bodies, and futures," said Johnson in a statement Monday. "The unrelenting attacks on our basic freedoms—including through the courts—demand that we reform our federal court system. Abortion rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, our democratic institutions, and so much more are at stake."
Johnson spoke toMSNBC's "Inside With Jen Psaki" on Sunday about Planned Parenthood's decision to join the court expansion movement, as other rights groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Latino Victory, and Newtown Action Alliance have in recent weeks.
The group was pushed toward its decision, she said, as U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled last month that mifepristone, a pill used in medication abortions, should be taken off the market.
"The reality is, the court now has been fully captured in so many areas," Johnson said. "The fact that you have, again, this lone Texas judge, that can now bring cases, you can form shop there, bring cases to the Fifth Circuit, which is also conservative and up to the Supreme Court now, which has a conservative supermajority... And that is a way to circumvent the way in which popularly elected decisions are made."
"We need to see expanded courts, from the lower courts all the way up to the Supreme Court," she added. "We need to see term limits. We need to see ethical reforms."
\u201cNEWS: @PPact is endorsing Supreme Court expansion.\n\n"The way in which the system has been captured requires us to engage in structural reform." -- @alexismcgill tells @jrpsaki\u201d— Demand Justice (@Demand Justice) 1684083423
Planned Parenthood's decision to join the court expansion movement, which has been led by groups including Demand Justice and Take Back the Court, comes as right-wing Supreme Court justices, particularly Justice Clarence Thomas, have faced intense criticism over alleged ethics violations. Recent reports have pointed to evidence that Thomas has for years received financial gifts from Texas Republican megadonor Harlan Crow without disclosing those financial ties as required by federal law, and Justices Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts have also faced scrutiny about their failure to disclose financial transactions and payments.
"It's really important to call for structural reforms that sustain progress," said Johnson. "It would be one thing to call for a justice to step down for whatever reason, but the reality is that the way in which the system has been captured requires us to engage in structural reform in a different way."
On social media, Johnson said Planned Parenthood's "expanded position" on the courts reflects an expansion of its "commitment" to protecting reproductive rights.
\u201cAs we continue to face unrelenting attacks on our basic freedoms, Planned Parenthood refuses to accept that our courts can only exist as they do now. Our expanded position only expands our commitment to you.\n\nhttps://t.co/ws38by9Io0\u201d— Alexis McGill Johnson (@Alexis McGill Johnson) 1684089002
Demand Justice called Planned Parenthood's decision "an inflection point for the Supreme Court reform movement."
"The endorsement of key groups in the progressive ecosystem like Planned Parenthood shows just how far this campaign has come," said Brian Fallon, executive director of the group. "The public has awoken to the dangers of a captured, corrupt judiciary and is demanding solutions. The composition of the court will obviously not be changed overnight, but the consensus about the need for bold, sweeping reforms is growing by the day, and the salience of the court as a political issue has never been higher."
Sarah Lipton-Lubet, president of Take Back the Court, said Planned Parenthood's joining of the movement shows how court expansion has become "a mainstream progressive policy goal with the support of more than 60 members of Congress and some of the most respected and powerful abortion rights champions in our movement."
"A few short years ago, we were told court expansion was a pipe dream," said Lipton-Lubet. "With support from groups boldly advocating at the state level to leading national organizations, our movement is growing stronger every day. The right-wing extremists on the Court can try to rip our rights away, but we're fighting back even stronger—and we're going to win."
The Supreme Court has been expanded seven times in the past. Reform advocates also called for an addition of seats of lower federal courts to reflect growth in population, diversity, and the number of cases that judges hear.
"It won't be easy and it won't happen overnight but we WILL expand the Supreme Court," said Doug Lindner, senior director of judiciary and democracy for the League of Conservation Voters. "We WILL protect our abortion rights and our climate from these extremists. And we WILL pass on a vibrant, multiracial democracy to the next generation."