Changes To U.S. Supreme Court Under Consideration By Dem Senators

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According to a new report from The Washington Post, Democratic Senators are mulling over changes to the operations of the U.S. Supreme Court in order to help protect the nation’s legal system from the outsized political influence of Republican leaders like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. The latter, in his role as then-Senate Majority Leader, refused to even hold hearings on a nominee for the Supreme Court from then-President Obama in the final year of the then-commander-in-chief’s tenure, but self-justifying Senate Republicans rushed through the confirmation process for a Trump pick for the court much closer to last year’s election. Now, there’s a conservative majority of justices on the bench.

This conservatism could culminate in imminent, destructive impacts for Americans. Just recently, the court heard arguments in a case involving a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, and observers concluded from judges’ remarks that the court seemed poised to let the law stand. As Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) put it, discussing the arguments in the Mississippi case:

‘It is hard to watch that — and I did watch a fair amount of it — and not conclude that the court has become a partisan institution. And so the question becomes, well, what do we do about it? I’m not sure. But I don’t think the answer is nothing.’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) added that conservative justices have “undermined confidence in the court and force us in Congress to rethink how to build a court that the American people can trust.” Altogether, the Post says that “a growing faction [of Senators], long hesitant to embrace structural changes, say they are now prepared to consider” changes to the court, and that “sentiment is growing among Democratic senators, according to interviews with more than a third of the 50-member caucus” conducted last week.

One of the issues pointed out in the article from the Post is that comments from judicial nominees to Senators have proven to not necessarily reflect what those individuals would do once confirmed to the Supreme Court. During confirmation proceedings, Trump pick Brett Kavanaugh insisted that he believed Roe v. Wade — the Supreme Court decision outlining the right to an abortion in the United States — to be a “settled” precedent, but during arguments related to the Mississippi law, he insisted that overturning longstanding legal principles should be considered an option.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that Kavanaugh’s “cavalier talk yesterday about precedent, and the clear political motivations of the plaintiffs in this case, are going to undermine faith in the judiciary,” adding that members of Congress must “think about ways to sort of depoliticize the courts. And one of the ways to do that is to make sure that no one president gets to stack the bench.” Read more here.

Notably, Justice Sonia Sotomayor (an appointee of Barack Obama) addressed related issues herself during the recent Mississippi-related proceedings that Senators were contemplating. As she put it: “The sponsors of this bill… said we’re doing it because we have new justices… Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible… [Certain rulings, such as the decision in Roe v. Wade] have such an entrenched set of expectations in our society — that this is what the court decided; this is what we will follow — that we won’t be able to survive if people believe that everything… [is] all political. How will we survive? How will the court survive?”

Featured Image (edited): Sunira Moses/ Wikimedia Commons, available under a Creative Commons License