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Congressional Progressives Endorse Expanding Supreme Court to “Restore Balance”

Advocates say that Supreme Court expansion is one of the only ways to ensure that abortion rights are protected.

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on December 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has officially thrown its weight behind a Democratic bill to expand the Supreme Court, in an attempt to push back against Republican efforts to pack the court with right-wing justices.

CPC Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) announced on Wednesday that the CPC’s nearly 100 members voted to endorse the Judiciary Act of 2021. The bill, which was introduced by CPC members Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) and Mondaire Jones (D-New York) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), would add four justices to the Supreme Court, bringing the total to 13.

Jayapal hailed the legislation as playing an “urgent” role in restoring democracy. “The current bench was filled by a partisan, right-wing effort to entrench a radical, anti-democratic faction and erode human rights that have been won over decades,” she said. “In recent years, this court has gutted the Voting Rights Act and public sector unions, entrenched unconstitutional abortion bans, and failed to overturn the blatantly discriminatory Muslim Ban.”

Advocates for Supreme Court expansion and reform praised the decision. “Progress on everything from reproductive freedom, to voting rights, to climate change, racial justice, immigration, and the future of democracy itself, requires us to rebalance this Court,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, executive director of Take Back the Court Action Fund. “[T]oday’s endorsement from the Progressive Caucus is a loud and clear message that we will not let this hyperpartisan 6-3 stolen Court stand in the way of that progress.”

Though the Supreme Court is supposed to be non-partisan, it has faced scrutiny over past months, particularly for its decision to uphold Texas’s near-total abortion ban, which essentially overturned Roe v. Wade in the state.

Last month, during an initial hearing for a case brought by Mississippi that directly challenges the decades-old abortion rights decision, the Court’s conservative majority indicated that they may be prepared to axe Roe protections. This would immediately affect people in at least 22 states that are poised to enact restrictions or outright bans on abortion if Roe is no longer in place.

In July, the Court’s conservative justices ruled to gut what was left of the Voting Rights Act in its Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decision. The six conservatives on the court ruled that Arizona’s voting restrictions during the 2020 election were not in violation of the anti-discrimination law, an assertion that voting rights advocates say is blatantly false.

The Court is currently composed of six conservatives and only three Democrats. This imbalance is due to shameless Republican efforts to dominate the court; months before the election in 2016, Sen. Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote for President Barack Obama’s Democratic Supreme Court pick, citing the upcoming election. When Donald Trump took office, Republicans immediately confirmed their conservative pick. And last year, just weeks before the 2020 election, Republicans rushed to install far-right Justice Amy Coney Barrett – without a single GOP complaint about the proximity to Election Day.

The Judiciary Act is Democrats’ response to Republican manipulation of the Supreme Court, which is actively causing the degradation of rights for the public. With lifelong tenure for justices – and with Democratic Justice Stephen Breyer now 83 years old – the bill may be the only way for Democrats to retake the Supreme Court, or at least restore some balance, in the foreseeable future.

Calls to expand the Supreme Court took on particular urgency after Texas seriously restricted abortion access in September; at the time, lawmakers like Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) tweeted in support of legislation to add justices to the court.

“A Supreme Court where 5 of 6 conservative justices were appointed by GOP presidents who initially lost popular vote and confirmed by senators representing minority of Americans are taking away voting rights and reproductive rights from millions of Americans. This is not democracy,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.

Without the passage of the Judiciary Act, Democrats will face an uphill battle to protect abortion access, restore voting rights and more. People like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have said that most, if not all, Democratic priorities would require abolishment of the filibuster in order to pass. Even then, however, conservatives could still wage legal challenges to laws passed by Democrats.