Planned Parenthood Finally Endorses Expanding the Supreme Court, Setting Term Limits

The American court system is in crisis, and a group that's deeply influential in the Democratic Party is stepping up to push for badly needed reform.

Planned Parenthood Finally Endorses Expanding the Supreme Court, Setting Term Limits
Photo:Sarah Morris (Getty Images)

Nearly one year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood has come out in its support of a slew of major court reforms, including expanding the Supreme Court, setting term limits, and ending single-judge divisions, which essentially allowed anti-abortion activists to choose the judge who would rule on their abortion pill lawsuit.

“The fight to strengthen our democracy and bolster our institutions has always been intertwined with the fight for reproductive freedom,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement on Sunday. “[T]he courts have been used as a vehicle to advance a dangerous agenda against abortion rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and so much more.”

The Supreme Court “hasn’t been expanded for 150 years,” Planned Parenthood notes, while “the U.S. has become much more diverse” and “the population has multiplied by more than 10.” Adding justices and balancing the court is also essentially our last hope for the restoration of abortion rights, or just about any human right you can name that the Supreme Court has gutted in recent years.

As it currently stands, a third of the bench consists of Trump picks, and the majority were chosen by right-wing presidents who lost the popular vote and vetted by fringe right-wing groups. The 52 Republican senators who voted to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the high court in 2020 represented 13.5 million fewer people than the senators who rejected her. Not exactly a sign of a thriving democracy!

In addition to expanding the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood advocates for adding more judges on lower courts to “keep up with the growing U.S. population and caseload,” and ending single-judge divisions. This includes the Northern Texas District Court, where the sole judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, was able to issue a major ruling on medication abortion access in March. (The Supreme Court temporarily blocked Kacsmaryk’s decision last month, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Wednesday.) Single-judge divisions allow interests groups—like, say, anti-abortion activists—to go judge shopping by “[picking] and [choosing] where to file cases,” Planned Parenthood notes, and “guarantee that a favorable judge decides their case.”

In addition to the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that ended Roe, Planned Parenthood’s announced support for court reforms also comes as nearly every week brings forth a new ethics scandal at the court, particularly surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas’ shady financial maneuverings and questionable “friendship” with a right-wing billionaire. To that end, the organization also calls for “ethics and transparency requirements” for the justices, noting that justices aren’t currently prevented from owning and trading stocks, the rules around their accepting gifts are “poorly defined,” and there are no direct consequences for wildly unethical behaviors in general.

In the first months of President Biden’s term, he signed an executive order to establish a formal commission to “closely study” whether to add seats, among other reform proposals. Nothing has come of the commission yet, to the surprise of no one who understands the slow if not utterly stagnant grind of federal bureaucracy—even as an unelected government body hacks away at our most basic rights, worsening the maternal mortality crisis and landing pregnant people and doctors in jail. With all of this on the line, I couldn’t care less what George Washington would have thought of court expansion and other extremely basic reforms; but it’s clearly a step in the right direction that a major organization like Planned Parenthood, with its deep influence in the Democratic Party, is on the same page.

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