Expanding the Supreme Court solely to dilute the power of its current 6–3 conservative majority—political court-packing—is one of the most radical proposals currently circulating on the activist left. For the time being it faces exceedingly long odds of happening, but there are signs that support continues to grow and coalesce from multiple different issue-advocacy directions.
Packing the Court
Just Majority is a new coalition of at least 38 left-wing activist groups that support congressional action to add more justices to the Supreme Court of the United States, expanding it from the nine-justice norm that has been maintained since 1869. It’s an idea that has been gaining traction on the left, and Just Majority has embarked on a 20-stop nationwide tour to build support for court-packing alongside sympathetic activists and Democratic politicians.
All of this has been prompted, according to Just Majority, by certain “illegitimate rulings” that were allegedly based on “politics and not the law” when they were decided by the court’s “unethical” conservative majority. Just Majority provides little in the way of detail or explanation—particularly with respect to the rather serious charge of judicial illegitimacy. The campaign appears to boil down to the fact that the Just Majority coalition simply disagrees with some of the court’s recent decisions on issues such as abortion and gun control and is exploring strategies to reverse them by any means necessary.
To state the obvious, it is difficult to imagine anything that would do more to irrevocably politicize the Supreme Court and raise existential questions about its legitimacy than for a future Democrat-controlled Congress to unilaterally pack the bench with ideologically acceptable justices at the behest of left-wing special interest groups, and do so purely because they don’t like the way the court has ruled on politically controversial questions.
In launching their long-shot campaign for precisely that, those behind Just Majority take the regrettable tendency toward ends-justify-the-means rationalization common among hardcore activists to its logical extreme. Even when graded on the quite forgiving curve that is our contemporary sociopolitical discourse, the brazenness of Just Majority’s disingenuity about the integrity of the Supreme Court as an institution is remarkable.
A Broadening Coalition
The breadth of interest groups that have joined the Just Majority campaign for court-packing is also worth noting because it illustrates another notable trend within left-of-center nonprofit activism. The coalition counts among its members not only legal and judicial advocacy groups—such as the American Constitution Society, the Take Back the Court Action Fund, the Alliance for Justice, and Demand Justice—but also all manner of issue advocacy nonprofits not widely associated with structural battles over the Supreme Court.
These include gun control groups such as March for Our Lives and Guns Down America; environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the League of Conservation Voters; pro-abortion groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, Reproaction, All Above All Action Fund, and We Testify; voter mobilization and advocacy groups such as Voto Latino and Black Voters Matter; and race/ethnicity-focused groups such as Color of Change and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Also joining the coalition were broad spectrum left-wing think tanks and activist groups such as Demos, the Center for Popular Democracy, People for the American Way, MoveOn, and Women’s March.
Although Just Majority couches its campaign in language that disavows “partisanship” and extols the Supreme Court’s role in defending the American ideals of “fairness, justice, and equality,” its membership betrays the coalition’s true political and ideological objectives. NARAL president Mini Timmaraju told the New York Times that the abortion advocacy group finally decided to embrace court-packing after determining that the time had come for “everything . . . to be on the table.” One of the campaign’s goals is to make the Supreme Court a major election issue in 2024.
Mainstreaming the Radical
The Supreme Court is not in any immediate danger of politically driven expansion. The requisite congressional support does not currently exist, and polling has repeatedly found a lack of popular enthusiasm for the idea. However, such things are subject to change. It is always important to pay attention to where activist groups are planting stakes on issues, if only to understand how far they would take things should they ever acquire the power to do so.
Expanding the Supreme Court to achieve specific public policy ends is a dangerously radical proposition that would gravely undermine the credibility of all three branches of government, with unpredictable consequences. It says much about the values and priorities of those behind the Just Majority coalition—which includes several prominent organizations with national name recognition—that they are willing to risk this for the sake of eventually squeezing out favorable rulings on a handful of deeply divisive political issues. The irony of Just Majority’s accusation that the Supreme Court “is behaving as if the rules don’t apply to them” is thick indeed.