Court Battles

Progressives give Biden’s court reform panel mixed reviews

President Biden speaks with reporters while meeting with economic advisers in the Oval Office
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Progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups greeted news of President Biden’s bipartisan commission on Supreme Court reform with a mix of cautious optimism, shrugs and deep skepticism.

The commission, launched Friday through an executive order, will study a range of ideas over 180 days, from a controversial proposal to pack the court with more liberal justices, to less politically combustible options.

The 36-member group comprises scholars, former high-ranking government officials and judges and legal practitioners from a range of political backgrounds.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), a member of Congressional Progressive Caucus and a proponent of adding seats to the court, indicated reservations about the elite pedigree of the group. But he also expressed some guarded hope about its prospect to set in motion changes on the high court.

“Americans will rightly be skeptical of a commission composed almost entirely of people protected from the real-life consequences of the Supreme Court’s right-wing extremism,” Jones said in a statement. “Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that the commission will join our rising movement for Court expansion.”

Nan Aron, who heads the progressive judicial advocacy group Alliance for Justice, said Biden’s move demonstrated “a strong commitment to studying this situation and taking action.”

“With five justices appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, it’s crucial that we consider every option for wresting back political control of the Supreme Court,” Aron said. “The solutions considered must include actions that can be taken immediately, including expansion of the Court, to stave off decisions that could set back rights, freedoms, and liberties for decades to come.”

Roughly a half-dozen ideas for reforming the court gained prominence following the September death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Republicans’ fast-track confirmation of her Trump-appointed replacement, Amy Coney Barrett, on the eve of the 2020 election.

One proposal would establish 18-year term limits for justices, with an option to continue serving on lower federal courts after their Supreme Court term expired. The idea of placing term limits on justices is generally seen as a less extreme approach to reform than some other ideas that have been embraced in progressive circles.

Other proposed measures include narrowing the court’s jurisdiction, requiring a supermajority for decisions on some legal matters of consequence and imposing rules to create more ideological balance in the court’s composition.

Brian Fallon, the executive director of the judicial advocacy group Demand Justice, said the commission represented a “major nod” from Biden to the importance of court reform, but expressed doubts that it would produce real change.

“A commission made up mostly of academics, that includes far-right voices and is not tasked with making formal recommendations, is unlikely to meaningfully advance the ball on Court reform,” he said.

Like Fallon, director of Take Back the Court Aaron Belkin said Congress should not wait on the commission’s findings before taking action.

“We don’t have time to spend six months studying the issue — especially without a promise of real conclusions at the end,” he said. “The solution is already clear. Adding seats is the only way to restore balance to the Court, and Congress should get started right away.”

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Court packing court reform high court Joe Biden packing the court Ruth Bader Ginsburg SCOTUS Supreme Court

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