The Supreme Court has sucked for as long as I have been alive, and at this rate it will continue to suck even harder every year until I die.
Just in the last few weeks, the Court has voted to cover up US war crimes and to create a precedent that would allow states to permanently reduce the voting power of minorities. By summer, court-watchers expect SCOTUS to return abortion rights to the coat-hanger era, return diversity standards in college admissions to the pre-Civil Rights era, and twist the knife Republicans stuck in democracy's back.
Fortunately, it is possible to reform the Court. Unfortunately, that responsibility lies with a Congress and the President, who can't seem to agree on much anymore.
Encouragingly, in their respective chambers, Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. House Reps. Hank Johnson introduced the Judiciary Act, which would restore balance to the Court by adding four more seats to it.
Expanding the Court from 9 to 13 seats would quickly right the wrongs Sen. Mitch McConnell committed when he stole Justice Antonin Scalia's vacant seat, pushed through Brett Kavanaugh despite credible sexual assault allegations levied against him, and hypocritically rushed to confirm Amy Coney Barrett.
Though it sounds radical, the Constitution makes it pretty easy to change the size of the Court. In fact, the size of the Court has changed seven times since the country's founding — nine times if you include Senate Republicans shrinking the SCOTUS to eight justices for a year in 2016 and then bumping back up to nine — and it can change again. As University of Pennsylvania law professor Kermit Roosevelt III recently argued in the Harvard Journal of Law, expanding the nation's highest court is not an extreme position to hold when that Court is actively and unambiguously pushing democracy over a cliff.
Sadly but somewhat expectedly, only one member of Washington state's Democratic congressional delegation supports this project: Seattle Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
When asked, communications staff for Reps. Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Kim Schrier, Adam Smith, Marilyn Strickland, and Maria Cantwell did not respond to requests for comment on the bill. (I asked some of the Republicans, but honestly I gave up halfway through typing out the email address for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers's communications director, because why.)
A spokesperson for Sen. Patty Murray said the senator recognized that Republicans "fundamentally undermined" the "integrity and independence" of the courts over the last four years, is "absolutely invested in figuring out how we restore that trust," but does not support the Justice Act. She does, however, "support the Constitution, which grants Congress the power to set the number of federal judges—including for the Supreme Court." Isn't that a nice thing to say?
Though no Washington Democrat in Congress would say why they haven't signed onto the bill, they're likely refusing to commit because only 26% of Americans think Congress should pass such a law, though nearly 30% don't have an opinion or don't know. And with an election coming up this fall, Republicans say they cannot wait to slam Democrats for supporting "court packing." Sen. Rick Scott told Politico, “I can tell you we do our work over at the NRSC and it's resonating. The public doesn’t like it. Republicans and Democrats, neither of them like it.”
And policies do not become popular on their own, and that's especially true of procedural issues such as filibuster or court reform. Sometimes political leaders have to, you know, lead. In signing on to support the Justice Act, Jayapal is demonstrating that leadership, but she's not totally alone.
Last month, a group of 30 Washington state and local lawmakers signed onto a letter thanking Jayapal for supporting court expansion. Signatories include Seattle-area progressives such as State Sens. Senator Bob Hasegawa, Joe Nguyen, Rebecca Saldaña; State Reps. Liz Berry, Kirsten Harris-Talley, Nicole Macri; King County Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay and Jeanne Kohl-Welles; and everyone on the Seattle City Council except for the conservatives and Kshama Sawant. You can find the full list at the bottom of this post.
In a statement, King County Council Member Zahilay said, "Without Supreme Court expansion, every issue progressives care about is at risk. We need all of our representatives in Washington to stand up for our values and co-sponsor the bill to expand the Court."
State Sen. Nguyen agreed: "If we’re going to protect freedom of choice, end this pandemic, and protect our democracy we’re going to need all of our representatives, both here in Washington state and nationally, to stand up for our values and co-sponsor the Judiciary Act to expand the Court."
A group called Demand Justice, which is run by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's former communications director, has been trying to organize a bottom-up campaign to push federal officials to act on this issue. They pursued a similar approach in Illinois earlier this year and plan to continue efforts in other states over the course of the coming months.
Progressive politicians in safe-ish seats telling members of Congress in arguably less safe seats to back a controversial policy doesn't exactly amount to profiles in political courage, but it does help to normalize the idea, and it does raise the issue's salience among Democrats, a party that has largely ignored the Court over the last several decades. Republicans have obsessed over the Court since the 1970s, and that focus has arguably only helped win them everything they've ever wanted.
Full list of state and local officials in Washington who support Court expansion:
Senator Bob Hasegawa, 11th LD
Representative David Hackney, 11th LD
Representative Steve Bergquist, 11th LD
Representative Tara Simmons, 23rd LD
Senator Yasmin Trudeau, 27th LD
Representative Jesse Johnson, 30th LD
Senator Karen Keiser, 33rd LD
Senator Joe Nguyen, 34th LD
Representative Liz Berry, 36th LD
Senator Rebecca Saldaña, 37th LD
Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley, 37th LD
Representative Emily Wicks, 38th LD
Representative Nicole Macri, 43rd LD
Senator Mona Das, 47th LD
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay
King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles
Snohomish County Councilmember Megan Dunn
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold
Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales
Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss
Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis
Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda
Tukwila City Councilmember Cynthia Delostrinos Johnson
Tukwila City Councilmember Zak Idan
Tukwila City Councilmember De’Sean Quinn
Burien City Councilmember Hugo Garcia
Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera
Seattle School Board Director Brandon Hersey
Seattle School Board Director (former) Zachary DeWolf
Mary Fertakis, State Board of Education, Western WA Region 3