Long before the September 18th death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at least one congressional candidate in New York was talking about expanding the Supreme Court. Now, as President Trump has nominated conservative Amy Coney Barrett, other Democrats are considering the same, among other options.
Democratic Candidate Mondaire Jones of New York’s 17th district says democracy is under assault and if his party wants to do something about it, expanding the Supreme Court is the only option. It’s something he’s been writing about for a while.
“The Supreme Court size had changed at least seven times in our nation’s history, so this is deeply rooted in constitutional principles. There is nothing that says that Congress cannot alter the size of the Supreme Court. We have grown dramatically as a society in terms of population, and the issues that are before the Supreme Court are far more complex than they were centuries ago,” Jones says. “And so I think it is very appropriate, given the hyper-partisan nature of the Supreme Court, that we restore balance because, if we don’t do that, nothing that Congress passes in 2021 of great import, I think, will be something that this Supreme Court, certainly not a 6-3 Supreme Court, would uphold and respect.”
Jones, a former litigator in the Westchester County Law Department and former Department of Justice staffer during the Obama Administration, says a reasonable expansion would yield 13 justices. Democratic Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts’ 1st District is chair of the Ways and Means Committee.
“I think that it is worthy of examination as to whether or not the Court ought to be expanded,” says Neal. “I probably would not have said that before the Merrick Garland case, but I think now the hardball that has been determined and we’ve all had to witness, in the manner in which the last two Supreme Court nominations have been filled, we need to take a hard look at the Supreme Court.”
Republican Chele Farley is running against Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney in New York’s 18th District. In a statement, she says, “The Supreme Court has functioned well with nine members. One party’s desire to hold on to control is not a justifiable reason to pack the court.” Maloney has called on all Senate Democrats to oppose Coney Barrett’s nomination and what he called an illegitimate process. Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko of New York’s 20th District says, in addition to expanding the Supreme Court, imposing terms limits should be another consideration, and that Senate Democrats should weigh all options.
“Again, we need to go forward with every opportunity to make certain that the impact of filling the court with this sort of approach at a time that we‘re in the midst of an election is simply stalled at the best we can do if not stopped by engaging the public sentiment out there, which may be the tool we need to use,” says Tonko.
Ginsburg’s dying wish was to have November’s presidential election winner choose her successor. Jones along with Tonko and some of his Democratic colleagues say a 6-3 conservative majority would eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, reproductive rights, workers’ rights, LGBTQ rights, and other civil liberties. Again, Tonko:
“There’s no denying there’s some tremendous concern, many issues at great risk here right now and, prime amongst them, the Affordable Care Act and all that could be lost there,” Tonko says. “This president has been obsessed with getting rid of what he calls Obamacare.”
Jones is running to succeed fellow Democrat Nita Lowey, who is not seeking re-election to the 17th District that includes all of Rockland County and part of Westchester.
“We have had, for some time now, a hyper-partisan, conservative majority on the Supreme Court that is not interested in respecting the will of Congress. I think back to the fact that the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, which had been renewed in the early 2000s, with bipartisan, overwhelming support by Congress,” Jones says. “Justice Roberts has never seen a democratic provision, small ‘d’ democratic provision, to make it easier for people to vote that he did not find to be problematic.”
Coney Barrett is a federal appellate judge. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the 1990s.