At Forum Hosted by Demand Justice, Momentum Builds for Court Reform



December 6, 2018

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A Recording Of The Livestream Can Be Viewed Here

WASHINGTON, DC—On Wednesday, Demand Justice hosted an array of the country’s most prominent, progressive activists and thinkers at a forum in Washington, DC to make the case for reforming the Supreme Court in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle.

While the participants voiced support for different reform proposals, a clear consensus emerged: the Roberts Court’s conservative majority has politicized the Court as an institution, and progressives must be willing to consider bold steps to restore the Court’s legitimacy.

“We can’t resign ourselves to living the next 40 years under a judicial oligarchy installed by the Federalist Society,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. “We need reform of the third branch of the government. We must look at expanding the number of justices on the Court to ensure a future Democratic president has the chance to fill two or more seats on the Court. And we must look at ending life tenure for Supreme Court justices in favor of term limits that would guarantee each President in the future has the chance to nominate a fixed number of justices in any given four-year term.”

“This is a meeting of first responders. Our democracy continues to be on fire. But I’ll tell you, the silver lining of this President has been that it has awakened our democracy in ways that I’ve never seen in my lifetime,” said Tom Perez, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “And now we have to sustain it, but we have to sustain it in a way that has voters understanding the importance of the issues you’re about to discuss because if you don’t have access to courts, you don’t have access to justice.”

“The first thing we ought to do as progressives [is] talk about taking power away from an elitist institution that is anti-democratic and restoring that power to the people and bringing independence to the Court again, instead of politicization,” said U.S. Representative Ro Khanna. “I believe very much that we need reform of our court and we have to make sure that it does not become an institution that strikes down populist policies, but I think we ought to talk about it in a way that is consistent with our jurisprudence, and our history, and our Constitution.”

“The reason why we need to think about having more than nine justices is because we only have seven legitimate justices on the Supreme Court as it stands,” said Elie Mystal, Editor-in-Chief at Above the Law. “I want to disagree with the premise that the problem is that the courts have become politicized. I think that the problem is that they’ve always been politicized and our side won’t get into the game.”

“We have all been sold this notion that there is an impartial, independent judiciary working for the common good,” said Eleanor Brown, a professor of law at Pennsylvania State Law. “People on the left have disproportionately bought that fiction. People on the right never bought that fiction. It means that people on the right… are behaving in activist ways, they are always acutely aware of the stakes and the implications in a way that people on the left are not.”

“The court has gotten very political over time and it’s gotten more polarized over time and the combination of politicization with the shenanigans recently that have delegitimized the Court have put us in a place where it is very possible that we should expect, if there is another Democratic president, that that president’s agenda will be overturned on a 5-4 basis regularly, repeatedly, and along partisan lines based on the appointing president of the justices on the Supreme Court,” said Ganesh Sitaraman, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School. “This is a shocking and striking development it is not something that is actually that common in our history… It’s a striking thing and it’s a problem. The question is how do we solve that problem.”

“[Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices] are acting like politicians––treat them like politicians. Talk about them like politicians.” said Sean McElwee, adviser to 1.20.21 Project. “I think this is why it’s important to ratchet up the pressure, because right now John Roberts does not feel political pressure, he does not feel as though the legitimacy of the court is broadly in doubt, he does not feel constrained politically to make his decisions, and he should feel constrained politically, because he is.”

“We only have just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of documents that proved that Brett Kavanaugh had lied to the United States Senate. There are more documents that were never provided to the Senate, never provided to the American people, that were kept hidden and that should be made available,” said Lisa Graves, former chief nominations counsel for U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and co-director of Documented. “I would hope that the House would––among the many things it’s doing, because it can do more than one thing at a time and the House Judiciary Committee can do more than one thing at a time––is begin the process of trying to secure those documents.”

“There’s this idea that impeachment is somehow a radical notion. What’s radical is the U.S. system of appointing judges to lifetime tenure and not having any check on them afterwards,” said Todd Tucker, a fellow at Roosevelt Institute.

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