Progressives renew call for U.S. Supreme Court expansion after abortion rights decision

A U.S. House bill would expand the court from nine to 13 seats; Speaker Nancy Pelosi has no plans to bring it to a vote

By: - July 19, 2022 9:22 am

It’s been a year since an early draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked, a precursor to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that overturned the federal right to abortion. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A group of U.S. House Democrats has called for the passage of legislation that would add four justices to the Supreme Court, following the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that provided the constitutional right to abortion.

“It’s an ultra-right-wing Republican Supreme Court,” Rep. Hank Johnson, of Georgia, said during a Monday press conference outside the Capitol. “It is a Supreme Court where basic freedoms are under assault.”

The bill, H.R. 2584, introduced by Johnson, would expand the court from nine to 13 seats. The court’s current ideological makeup is six to three in favor of conservative-leaning justices.

Johnson’s legislation has 58 co-sponsors, all Democrats. However, if passed by the House, the measure would be dead on arrival in the 50-50 Senate, where any bill needs to meet a 60-vote threshold to advance.

Another sticking point is the Biden administration has voiced its opposition to expanding the court. During a foreign trip in June, ​​White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that President Joe Biden “does not agree with” expanding the court.

Last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she has no intentions of advancing the measure to the House floor.

Similar legislation to expand the court introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has just two co-sponsors — Elizabeth Warren, also of Massachusetts, and Tina Smith of Minnesota.

Aging out

Johnson argued that Congress cannot wait for the conservative justices to age out of the Supreme Court. The youngest is Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who is 50, and the oldest is Justice Clarence Thomas, who is 74.

“We don’t have a generation to wait to reform the court,” Johnson said.

Pregnant patients without access to abortion face a ‘death sentence,’ U.S. House panel told

Congress has expanded and shrunk the court seven times throughout its existence.

Joining House Democrats were Markey and leaders from progressive organizations such as Take Back the Court Action Fund, Stand Up America, League of Conservation Voters, Demand Justice, Center for Popular Democracy Action and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, among others.

Other House Democrats at the press conference included Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Andy Levin and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Mondaire Jones of New York, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Mark Takano of California and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

The renewed call to expand the Supreme Court comes after conservative justices issued several controversial decisions this year. They ranged from weakening the separation of church and state to limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to tackle climate change to dismantling gun control laws passed by states.

Abortion medications set to become the next legal battleground | Analysis

That was in addition to the reversal of Roe v. Wade. So far, eight states have banned access to abortions.

Watson Coleman said the current ideological makeup of the court is a threat and that other rights such as same-sex intimacy, same-sex marriage and privacy when it comes to birth control could easily be undone.

Thomas wrote his own concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, arguing that since the court has overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in that case, which was grounded in the 14th Amendment and the due process clause, other cases that have been rooted in the same right to privacy could all be reconsidered.

“They will come for our right of contraception, they will come for our right for who to love,” Watson Coleman said of Thomas’ concurring opinion.

Levin said this is the first time the Supreme Court has rolled back a constitutional right, especially a “right that the people of this country have had for over 50 years.”

“America is supposed to be a secular democracy, not a theocracy,” Levin said, adding that the conservative justices were imposing their personal beliefs on Americans.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.