Demand Justice Announces Democratic Party Platform to Include Call for Court Reform


July 31, 2020


Breakthrough, Negotiated Between Progressive Activists and Platform Officials, Puts Party On Record In Support of Structural Changes to Judicial Branch

WASHINGTON, DC — On Friday, Demand Justice announced that officials drafting the formal Democratic Party platform had approved language calling for structural reform of the federal courts. The development marks a major victory for the emerging movement to reform the judiciary.

Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon said: “This is a historic win for the grassroots movement to reclaim our courts.It represents a real escalation in how Democrats are approaching our judiciary after years of surrendering the issue to Republicans. It is now officially the position of the Democratic party that the status quo of our politicized courts system is unacceptable and the judiciary must be reformed. Unlike in 2016 when the Supreme Court seat stolen from Merrick Garland failed to galvanize Democrats, this time progressives are putting the fight for the courts front and center. We are grateful to the Platform Committee and the Biden officials who worked with us to include this important nod to the urgency of the crisis in our courts.”  

Under Donald Trump, Republicans have approved more than 200 federal judges who are overwhelmingly white and male, as well as extreme in their right-wing views and, in many cases, highly unqualified. It has been the culmination of a decades-long project by conservatives to use the courts to rubber-stamp their deeply unpopular agenda: repealing the Affordable Care Act, stacking the deck in favor of corporations and the wealthy, undercutting labor rights, weakening civil rights protections, and restricting reproductive freedom.

In response to Trump’s takeover of the courts, Demand Justice led a group of more than 20 progressive organizations in calling on the Democratic Convention Platform Committee to include Court reform in the 2020 platform. In the days before and after the sending of that letter, activists on behalf of this coalition had constructive discussions with platform officials about the wording of a potential provision. After a compromise was reached among all sides — including officials representing Vice President Joe Biden – the language was formally filed as an amendment by Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in her capacity as a member of the Platform Committee. The full platform committee approved the amendment this week.

The new language adopted by the Democratic Convention Platform Committee is as follows:

“The Republican Party has packed our federal courts with unqualified, partisan judges who consistently rule for corporations, the wealthy, and Republican interests. They have undermined the legitimacy of our courts through an anti-democratic, win-at-all costs campaign that includes blocking a Democratic president from appointing a justice to the Supreme Court and obstructing dozens of diverse lower-court nominees. The Democratic Party recognizes the need for structural court reforms to increase transparency and accountability.”

This breakthrough follows a two-year campaign to prioritize the need for structural reform of the federal courts. In December 2018, on the heels of Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation to the Supreme Court, Demand Justice hosted a conference on Court reform in Washington, DC, that featured remarks by former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Rep. Ro Khanna and other key activists and thought leaders. Throughout 2019, Demand Justice organized activists to press presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire to support Court reform. Every single candidate was put on the record, and many expressed openness to the idea. Leading figures like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Attorney General Eric Holder expressed support for expanding the size of the Court. The topic was discussed at multiple DNC-sponsored debates and at a Demand Justice-hosted presidential candidate forum last February. Just last month, two New York progressives won House primary races after endorsing Court expansion. On June 30, Demand Justice took part in a virtual rally in support of Court reform organized by partner organizations Take Back the Court and Indivisible and headlined by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

On Friday, Demand Justice also praised a separate part of the platform that expresses the need for Democrats to shift their focus when it comes to types of lawyers they nominate for federal judgeships. The new language says Democrats will seek to nominate public defenders, legal aid lawyers and civil rights lawyers. This echoes a yearlong call by Demand Justice, which has urged the next Democratic president to avoid nominating corporate law firm partners in order to prioritize lawyers from these underrepresented corners of the profession.

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