What's On Our Mind ...
In the aftermath of SCOTUS’s leaked draft opinion on Roe v Wade that leaves the future of our non-codified rights uncertain, a debate has once again arisen: the size of the Supreme Court.
The nation’s highest court, for the most part, was immune to the political winds and remained pretty balanced. However, that changed when Trump ceded the selection of SCOTUS judges, and most lower court judges, to the conservative, right-wing Federalist Society.
The Constitution does not set the number of judges who sit on SCOTUS. Congress must approve any changes to the Court’s size. Rather, these number of seats are a result of a long history of expanding and shrinking the court to meet political ends. In 1801, the Court was shrunk from six seats to five seats under President John Adams in order to prevent Thomas Jefferson’s appointment to the Court. But as President, Jefferson would then go on to restore the sixth seat and add a seventh.
President Andrew Jackson expanded the court to nine members. President Ulysses Grant wanted to appoint Justices so he expanded the Court to nine seats from the seven that had been legislated in 1866. President Abraham Lincoln would add a tenth to prevent the Court from interfering with the Union’s cause. President Franklin Roosevelt tried but failed expand the Court to 15 seats.
Will adding a few Biden-appointed Supreme Court Justices end the current conservative stranglehold on the court and return the Court to balance? Potentially. But, what would happen to the checks and balances this country depends on if the number of seats on the Court are always open for discussion. Court size could become a dangerous slippery slope for our democracy.
Reform may be needed, but in what form and size? One suggestion includes Justice term limits. Another idea would be to establish partisan balance requirements by giving each president two seats to fill per four-year term that expire if left unused. This plan could help to defuse the Court’s current intense politicization and restore its long-term public legitimacy, according to the Brennan Center.
Democracy is not static. But change must be carefully examined before proceeding and without political motivations. Whatever ultimately happens, it is imperative that the Court still remains the final arbiter of the law and delivers equal justice to all. Our rights and lives depend on this.
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Elections matter because courts matter.