Progressive Judicial Group Launches $1.5 Million Effort To Expand Supreme Court

Demand Justice has quietly staffed up and recruited hundreds of volunteers to pressure Democratic lawmakers to add four more seats to the court.

A progressive judicial advocacy group announced Wednesday that it is launching a $1.5 million grassroots program aimed at pressuring Democrats in Congress to support legislation adding seats to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Demand Justice’s plans include hiring an in-house team of six people, working with Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign strategist Becky Bond, and organizing an in-person lobby day on Capitol Hill in October ― timed with the anniversary of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The group has been quietly setting up the project for months. It hired Social Practice senior strategist Alexa Sousa as its in-house organizing director, and has recruited more than 400 volunteers to meet with nearly three dozen Democratic lawmakers’ offices to urge their support for The Judiciary Act, a bill that would expand the Supreme Court from 9 seats to 13.

At least two House Democrats, Reps. Ted Lieu (Calif.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.), became co-sponsors of the bill after meeting with Demand Justice, according to the group.

Executive director Brian Fallon conceded it will take time to persuade a majority of Democrats to get behind the bill. The project, he said, is part of a long-term investment in making the courts more of a priority among Democratic activists, something Republicans have outperformed them on.

And in light of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to let Texas’ extreme anti-abortion law take effect, Fallon said it’s clear that Democrats need a push to make court reforms.

“We know that even after the court’s direct attack on Roe v. Wade, Democratic party leaders are not going to rush to embrace Court expansion on their own,” he said. “They need to be pressured.”

Sen. Ed. Markey (D-Mass.) and Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) introduce their bill in April 2021 to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 seats.
Sen. Ed. Markey (D-Mass.) and Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) introduce their bill in April 2021 to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 seats.
SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

The Judiciary Act is popular among progressives, but it needs a lot more Democratic support to go anywhere. The House bill currently has 31 cosponsors, including Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.). The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), doesn’t have any co-sponsors. That doesn’t take into account that it takes 60 senators to advance legislation, and there are only 50 Democrats.

But the idea that the Supreme Court has become too partisan and that Democrats need to take action to “restore balance” to the court has gained traction in the last few years. Democrats were furious last year when Republicans ignored Senate precedents and raced to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat with President Donald Trump’s pick, Barrett, just weeks before the 2020 presidential election.

And that was after then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made the unprecedented decision in 2016 to deny a Supreme Court seat to President Barack Obama. He and other Republicans refused to give Obama’s then-nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing or a vote for nearly a year. McConnell succeeded in keeping the seat empty long enough for Trump to take office and fill it with a conservative pick.

Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) came around to the idea of court expansion last year, as did former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) announced his support for the idea before he was even sworn in.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), one the sponsors of the House bill, said sustained grassroots organizing around the Judiciary Act is “essential” to building support for it, and then translating that support into legislative action.

“I’m looking forward to working with Demand Justice to ensure progressive activists understand what’s at stake and how they can push their elected representatives to step up and sponsor the Judiciary Act of 2021 before it’s too late,” said Jones.

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