Supreme Court

Rep. Barbara Lee Adds to Growing Progressive Drumbeat to Expand the Supreme Court

Bay Area groups called for Supreme Court reforms at the latest stop for a nationwide campaign

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On Sunday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) added her voice to the growing calls from progressive lawmakers to expand the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lee was back home in Oakland Sunday and speaking at a press event for "Just Majority," which is a nationwide campaign with organizations and elected officials calling for reforms on the Supreme Court. The stop in Oakland Sunday was the latest destination in the "Just Majority" bus tour across the country.

"I’ve witnessed political gamesmanship over lifetime appointments, I’ve seen more ethics scandals than I can count," Lee said.

"But let me tell you, I’ve never been more fearful for the future of our highest court than I am today,” she continued.

At Sunday's event, Lee was joined by Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson as well as representatives from Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, California Environmental Voters, Indivisible East Bay, and Youth ALIVE!

"Planned parenthood nationally has expressed a call to reform the courts," explained Lauren Babb of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which provides services in parts of California and northern Nevada.

"We need to expand the courts if we want to protect our rights,” Babb said.

The speakers at Sunday's event called for immediate change, citing recent Supreme Court decisions, reports questioning the ethics of justices and their spouses, and diminishing public confidence in the high court.

"The only way to restore balance, integrity and independence is by adding seats," Lee said.

She also called for term limits for justices and a system of accountability for justices whose ethics are in question.

"Through the Judiciary Act we can add four seats to the bench and restore a Supreme Court that is truly representative of the people,” Lee continued.

The Judiciary Act of 2023, which was introduced to the U.S. House and Senate this month, would bring the total number of Supreme Court justices to 13.

James Taylor, who is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, pointed out that the Judiciary Act of 2023 is co-sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who is one of the candidates running against Lee for a senate seat.

Taylor said of Lee's interest in bringing changes to the Supreme Court, "she’s been very vocal about it, and she’s trying to niche herself out apart from her two rivals in California, but it's very difficult when they all hold the same position.”

Professor Margaret Russell at Santa Clara University has been teaching constitutional law for three decades and says she is seeing more momentum for checks on the Supreme Court.

"I have not heard until now as many cries for term limits at the Supreme Court level,” Russell said.

Russell noted it is within Congress' authority to change the number of people on the court, though the court has remained at its current nine seats since the mid 1800s.

She thinks it's important for U.S. leaders to discuss whether changing the number of justices might help restore public confidence in the high court.

"There is no required number -- high or low -- for the U.S. Supreme Court so certainly that should be considered, fleshed out, talked about and understood in terms of the implications,” Russell said.

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