More Than 20 Progressive Groups Call For Court Reform To Be Included In 2020 Democratic Party Platform

07.15.20

In Major Show of Momentum, More Than a Dozen Organizations Are Expressing Support for Structural Reform of Federal Courts For First Time

WASHINGTON, DC — On Wednesday, 22 progressive organizations released a letter calling on the Democratic Convention Platform Committee to include reform of the Supreme Court in the 2020 Democratic Party platform. The coalition includes more than a dozen organizations that are joining the call for Court reform for the first time.

Signers of the letter include: America’s Voice, American Economic Liberties Action, American Family Voices, Be A Hero Action Fund, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Demand Justice, Demand Progress, Democracy for America, Immigration Hub, Indivisible, Justice Democrats, People’s Action, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Revolving Door Project, Social Security Works, Stand Up America, Sunrise Movement, Ultraviolet, United We Dream Action, #VOTEPROCHOICE, Women’s March, and Working Families Party.

The letter argues that “as currently constituted, the Supreme Court poses a threat to our ability to tackle the most pressing crises we face today” and that “promises to take action on any of these issues without a plan to reform the Court ultimately mean little.” It says, “doing nothing to reform the Supreme Court is simply not an option” and would “send Republicans the message that they can continue to break the rules to hijack our courts because Democrats will do nothing to reverse their illegitimate gains.” The letter mentions possible reforms including term limits for Supreme Court justices, rotating justices onto courts of appeal, a code of ethics, increased accountability and transparency, and adding seats to the Court.

The letter comes just two weeks after two prominent advocates for adding seats to the Supreme Court won primaries for House seats from New York. Also, in June, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Ilhan Omar and other leaders joined a rally organized by Take Back the Court, Indivisible and Demand Justice urging support for Court reform.The text of the letter is included below.

Ms. Julie Chávez Rodriguez

Mr. Denis McDonough

Co-Chairs, Platform Committee

Democratic National Convention

Dear Co-Chairs Rodriguez and McDonough:

We write to urge you to include reform of the Supreme Court in the 2020 Democratic Party Platform.

As you know, Republicans have been singularly successful in packing our courts with young, unqualified, political ideologues, while Democrats have only recently begun to understand the importance of the judiciary. The Democratic National Committee must acknowledge the damage the Republican Party has done to our courts and take immediate steps to center the need for court reform in its platform.

As currently constituted, the Supreme Court poses a threat to our ability to tackle the most pressing crises we face today. The five Republican justices have shown themselves to be partisan actors willing to break with precedent to enact the Republican Party’s agenda and strike down policies that hurt Republican donor interests. In recent years, the Republican bloc has struck down gun violence prevention measures, protections in the Voting Rights Act, campaign finance reform, Americans’ ability to access affordable birth control, and worker protections. The Affordable Care Act offers a clear example. Progressives fought for generations to expand access to health care through Congress, but more than a decade after the ACA’s passage, the entire law is yet again at risk at the Court – which already has stripped away key provisions. It would be naive to think that the kind of bold actions needed to combat challenges ranging from climate change to the gun violence epidemic to monopoly power would not meet the same fate. Promises to take such action on any of these issues without a plan to reform the Court ultimately mean little. Meanwhile, long-recognized civil rights of women, LGBTQ+ Americans, workers, immigrants, and people of color are under constant threat from this Court.

The Court poses an especially urgent threat to Americans’ ability to enact progressive change through a fair democratic process. The Republican justices have gutted our campaign finance system, permitted partisan gerrymandering, undermined the Voting Rights Act, and greenlit numerous other forms of voter suppression. In Wisconsin, they went so far as to force voters to choose between risking their lives and forfeiting their right to vote on Election Day. This Court is the lynchpin of the Republican effort to entrench minority rule by making it harder for people of color, young people, and low-income Americans to participate in our democracy while making it easier for the rich and the powerful to buy influence in Washington, D.C. and state capitals. We cannot plan to simply win elections until a Democratic president can appoint enough justices to restore balance to the Court if the justices themselves are making it increasingly difficult for a Democratic majority to win elections.

Furthermore, even Democratic election victories will not be enough to guarantee the Court will rebalance. Republicans have controlled a majority of its seats for the past 50 years despite having lost the popular vote in all but one of the last seven presidential elections. Republicans have installed their ultra-conservative majority through an anti-democratic, win-at-all costs campaign that includes blocking Democratic presidents from appointing justices. They not only denied President Obama the ability to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016 – functionally reducing the number of seats on the Court for a year to inflate their own power – but several Republican Senators even vowed to block Hillary Clinton from filling the vacancy during her entire presidency had she won in 2016. It should be no surprise that the Republican Supreme Court majority is hostile to American democracy and policies supported by a majority of Americans.

The Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence is anti-democratic. Acting to undo the damage is not a threat to the Court’s legitimacy; failing to act is.

There are actionable, sensible proposals to restore balance to the Supreme Court, and many Democratic presidential candidates expressed openness to reform. For example, adding seats to the Court can be done through legislation and has been supported by prominent Democratic legal experts such as former Attorney General Eric Holder. Other proposals, such as term limits or rotating justices onto courts of appeal, also could help restore balance to the Court and create a sustainable equilibrium. Any reform must also include a code of ethics and increased accountability and transparency to restore confidence in the Court.

Failing to include any provision on Court reform in the Party platform would send Republicans the message that they can continue to break the rules to hijack our courts because Democrats will do nothing to reverse their illegitimate gains. It would send the Republican justices the message that they can continue their frontal assault on our democracy without consequence. It also would tell young voters and progressives that Democrats are not serious about enacting and protecting their priorities. We cannot accept a future in which progressives fight tooth and nail to enact bold reforms only to see those victories overturned by a Supreme Court that has shown repeatedly that it is hostile to the democratic process.

Doing nothing to reform the Supreme Court is simply not an option.

Sincerely,

  • America’s Voice
  • American Economic Liberties Action
  • American Family Voices
  • Center for Popular Democracy Action
  • Demand Justice
  • Demand Progress
  • Democracy for America
  • Be a Hero Action Fund
  • Immigration Hub
  • Indivisible
  • Justice Democrats
  • People’s Action
  • Progressive Change Campaign Committee
  • Revolving Door Project
  • Social Security Works
  • Stand Up America
  • Sunrise Movement
  • UltraViolet
  • United We Dream Action
  • #VOTEPROCHOICE
  • Women’s March
  • Working Families Party

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