Democrats Must Unpack the Courts Now

Thom plus logo After 6 years of McConnell's court-packing, we must restore balance to the federal judiciary

Unable to win a majority of votes nationally or in most states, Republicans have resorted to gerrymandering, voter suppression and the federal court system to promote their racist, misogynistic, anti-labor, monopolist and pro-billionaire policies.

Because the courts stand as the final arbiters of all law, they're now openly supporting gerrymandering and voter suppression, from the Supreme Court on down. This has created a crisis for American democracy.

Donald Trump bragged that President Obama "left me 128 judges to fill" as if Obama was just sloppy. The actual number was 105, but Obama didn't "leave" them; he'd appointed genuinely qualified people, many women and minorities, to fill every single one of those judicial slots, and Mitch McConnell simply blocked them in the senate for the last two years of the Obama presidency.

McConnell even blocked Obama's appointment of a brilliant Black attorney, Myra Selby, to the Seventh Circuit Court just to keep the seat open for Amy Coney Barrett, a notorious rightwinger and shill for big corporations and antiabortion freaks. McConnell gave Barrett that stolen seat for her first job as a federal judge, and, when Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, he and Trump put her on the Supreme Court.

McConnell also blocked Obama's appointment of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court nearly a year before the election so rightwing hack Neil Gorsuch could get the seat instead, as soon as Donald Trump was sworn in.

As a result, Trump and McConnell got over 200 federal judges and three Supreme Court Justices through the Senate, meaning nearly a third of all federal judges were packed into our court system by Trump and virtually 100% of them have been straight and white, and the overwhelming majority men.

This is court-packing on an unprecedented scale, and refusing to even hold hearings on Judge Garland is a naked violation of the Constitution itself.

The fruit of conservative court-packing has, among other things, been a boon for Republicans who want to make it harder for people to vote, targeting young, minority and Social Security voters.

It started in a big way in 2013 with the Shelby County case when Chief Justice and former Reagan administration official John Roberts essentially ruled that racism was dead in America and therefore large parts of the Voting Rights Act were no longer necessary.

Immediately after that ruling, Republican-controlled legislatures in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Florida changed their voting rules to make it harder for young, low-income and Social Security voters to cast ballots.

In the 2019 case Rucho v Common Cause, five conservatives on the Court overruled the four Democratic appointees to say that gerrymandering was something that the Courts could no longer do anything about if those doing the gerrymandering didn't explicitly mention race as their motivation.

In her dissent, Justice Kagan wrote, "The gerrymanders here — and they are typical of many — violated the constitutional rights of many hundreds of thousands of American citizens."

Building on that case in 2020, Reagan appointee Judge Frank Easterbrook on the 7th Circuit Court found that Republican lawmakers "are entitled to consider politics when changing the rules about voting."

Want to do things to make it harder for Democratic-leaning voters to cast their ballots? "No problem," the court essentially said.

All over the country, similar cases are now going in favor of GOP voter suppression efforts, from making it difficult for Florida ex-felons to vote to endorsing gerrymandering that causes states like Wisconsin to send a majority of Republicans to their state legislature and the US Congress even though the GOP congressional candidates get a minority of votes in that state.

Similarly, in 2018 the 5–4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court dealt a huge blow to the ability of labor unions to function, as well as decriminalizing Ohio's massive voter suppression efforts leading to hundreds of thousands of mostly Black voters being removed from red-state voter rolls nationwide.

Another 5–4 all-conservative vote on the Supreme Court upheld Trump's race- and religion-based Muslim Travel Ban. They then rejected an attempt by Wisconsin's Democratic governor to expand voting rights during the pandemic.

In 2010, the conservative majority on the Court asked the Citizens United group to drop their case and re-argue it much more expansively so they could reaffirm their earlier court-created doctrine that corporations are "persons" and when billionaires own politicians it's not corruption or bribery but mere "free speech."

This wasn't the first time the Supreme Court and much of the rest of the federal judiciary had become openly and nakedly partisan. And if the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress unpack our courts, it won't be the first time the Article 3 branch has been reorganized to make it more representative of the majority of Americans.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln wanted to get a solid vote on the Court against slavery, so he and his Republican colleagues who controlled the Senate and the House increased the number of Circuit Courts and, by extension, the number of Supreme Court justices all the way up to 10.

Two years later, when Lincoln was assassinated and slaveholder Andrew Johnson became president, Congress reduced the size of the Court to seven justices specifically to deny Johnson an opportunity to appoint any justices.

After Johnson left office, Republican President Ulysses Grant oversaw Congress increasing the size of the Supreme Court back up to nine.

After he lost the brutal "Revolution of 1800" election, John Adams and his Federalists, during the lame duck session, passed the Judiciary Act of 1801 that dropped the number of justices on the Supreme Court from six to five to deny the incoming President Thomas Jefferson an appointee.

President Jefferson and his victorious Democratic Republicans in Congress increased the size of the Supreme Court by two, from five up to seven justices, to rebalance the federal judiciary that Adams had packed with rightwing Federalists on his way out of office.

During times of national crisis, changing the composition of the Court by changing the number of justices has been done repeatedly. Court packing and unpacking have a long and well-accepted history in America.

Mitch McConnell spent six years packing the federal courts, and, as a result, the nation is calling out for rebalancing.

The federal bench overall must be expanded to deal with its current workload, and the Supreme Court should be expanded by at least four members so it will better reflect the American electorate and so it can deal with a broader spectrum of cases.

To put it simply, it's time for Democrats to unpack the federal judiciary and restore fairness and justice to our justice system.

-Thom

Originally posted on thomhartmann.medium.com.

Comments

vetinla's picture
vetinla 23 weeks 4 days ago
#1

Rush Limbaugh is dead at 70. If there is justice in the universe, and reincarnation is a reality, Rush will come back as a poor black child, somewhere in Alabama.

As someone who spent his adult life lying, and fomenting hate for money, he deserves nothing less.....

Thom -Talk 23 weeks 3 days ago
#2

The Supreme Court should be expanded and restructured. Judges could be selected for cases from a "pool". That "pool" should better reflect the diversity of our country.

I sure won't wait for that to happen. It would be nice, and much more contiguous, and reflective than the fighting for "political control", again and again. Law should not be politicized.

The lower courts should better reflect the diversity of our country, as well.

Thom -Talk 23 weeks 9 hours ago
#3

The Electoral College, should be abolished. It does not allow ALL of our votes to count. All citizens should be allowed and encouraged, and aided to get to the polls and vote. Otherwise we cannot call ourselves a democracy. Neither can we call ourselves a Representative Republic, because some of us are not being represented! Not if we are honest about our situation.

Thom's Blog Is On the Move

Hello All

Today, we are closing Thom's blog in this space and moving to a new home.

Please follow us across to hartmannreport.com - this will be the only place going forward to read Thom's blog posts and articles.

From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom Hartmann channels the best of the American Founders with voice and pen. His deep attachment to a democratic civil society is just the medicine America needs."
Tom Hayden, author of The Long Sixties and director, Peace and Justice Resource Center.
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Through compelling personal stories, Hartmann presents a dramatic and deeply disturbing picture of humans as a profoundly troubled species. Hope lies in his inspiring vision of our enormous unrealized potential and his description of the path to its realization."
David Korten, author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning, and When Corporations Rule the World
From Screwed:
"Thom Hartmann’s book explains in simple language and with concrete research the details of the Neo-con’s war against the American middle class. It proves what many have intuited and serves to remind us that without a healthy, employed, and vital middle class, America is no more than the richest Third World country on the planet."
Peter Coyote, Actor and author of Sleeping Where I Fall