A group of House Democrats called for legislation on Monday that would add four seats to the Supreme Court, lamenting a “ultra right-wing” branch that just overturned the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights.
The eight lawmakers cited recent Supreme Court decisions that rolled back Miranda rights, threw out a New York gun control law and allowed religion to surface in schools — as well as the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision that overturned the right to abortion in Roe — in saying there was a need to add new justices to the court.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), the lead sponsor of the 2021 Judiciary Act, called the current makeup “a Supreme Court at crisis with itself and with our democracy” where “basic freedoms are under assault” from the 6-3 conservative supermajority on the bench.
The Supreme Court isn’t susceptible to the popular vote the way Congress is, Johnson said, and it has used that fact to amass power. “It’s making decisions that usurp the power of the legislative and executive branches,” he said.
Facing Republican opposition and some Democratic skepticism, the bill has little chance of becoming law, but it illustrates the deep anger among progressive Democrats about the court’s direction under three conservative justices nominated by former President Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
Those three justices have radically altered the direction of the court, which now has twice as many conservative justices as liberal ones. Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, a previous swing vote who had been nominated to the court by a Republican, while Barrett replaced liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Adding to Democratic anger, a GOP Senate blocked former President Obama’s last nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general. Gorsuch ended up being nominated to the court in place of Garland.
Introduced last year, the Judiciary Act has not progressed in Congress.
Some Democrats wary of the proposal are concerned that expansion would open the court up for Republicans to push more of their nominees into the openings.
“The nightmare scenario of GOP court-packing is already upon us,” said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.). “That’s how they got this far-right 6-3 majority in the first place.”
Lawmakers at Monday’s press conference, hosted by the Take Back the Court Action Fund, blamed Trump and the conservative legal movement for enabling a partisan court.
Republican politicians made controlling the judicial branch part of their platform, said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), adding that the court has “gone rogue” and “become a radical institution.”
The lawmakers also emphasized that the longevity of the lifelong terms the sitting justices are now serving makes action to expand the court more urgent.
Of 72-year-old conservative Justice Samuel Alito, Johnson said, “You can see the gleam in his eye as he thinks about what he wants to do to decimate the rights of people and put us back in the Dark Ages.”
Trump-nominated Gorsuch, Barrett and Kavanaugh, in their 50s, are “gonna be there for a while,” Johnson said.
Congress has changed the number of seats on the nation’s highest court seven times in the nation’s history. The new proposal would bring the total seat count to 13, meaning a decision from the court would need a 7-6 majority rather than the present 5-4.
Reps. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) were also at the conference, along with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, and a handful of progressive activists.