Beyond the historic nature of President Joe Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, some groups see the current moment as an opportunity to push for Supreme Court reform. While viewed by many as a necessary step forward, nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court is not a quick fix for an institution riddled with historical inequities.
Just Democracy, a coalition of grassroots racial and social justice groups, applauded the nomination calling it a “substantial step forward,” but noted that the burden of fixing the Court cannot be put at the feet of a Black woman.
“An equitable justice system must include a slate of justices who represent the diversity of our nation,” said Just Democracy’s spokesperson Channel Powe in a statement. “After conservatives chose partisan politics over constitutional fairness to steal a majority on the Supreme Court, we must fight to expand and rebalance the Court to ensure the constitutional rights of millions of Americans are upheld and protected. We celebrate today while calling for additional colleagues to join Judge Jackson on the bench.”
Tamara Brummer, senior advisor and director of national outreach and engagement for Demand Justice, shared a similar sentiment in an interview with NewsOne before Brown’s nomination. Brummer said that representation was important, but adding more diversity to the bench cannot remedy the issues in the Court’s current structure.
“Putting an individual into a broken structure does not fix the structure,” Brummer said. “If we’re going to get the change we need, we’re going to need to back up this nomination with Supreme Court expansion so that this Black woman justice has a diverse group of colleagues who will help her rebalance the Court.”
Brummer said many institutions have embraced Black women’s leadership but do not take the time to address the internal issues. Black women are more than fixers of institutional disaster.
“We see this a lot like Black women have saved our democracy, and then they’re gonna fix it,” Brummer said. “So we need to be talking about the institution and the structure.”
Despite conservative attempts to spin Brown’s nomination, she is undoubtedly a highly qualified candidate who brings a breadth of experience on and off the federal bench. But she alone cannot bring balance to the Court.
Focusing on the needs and rights of millions of people living in this country, bringing balance to the Court must sit outside the false bipartisan jockeying of Congress and the two major parties. Like with voting rights, Court reform has broader support outside of Congress.
According to Brummer, the current 6-3 conservative supermajority results from political tricks in the nomination process resulting in seats stolen from the people.
“Demand Justice and other partners believe that the way we fix the Supreme Court is that we need to add seats,” Brummer said. “Mitch McConnell denied Barack Obama a nominee. And then Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump denied the American people another nominee when there was a vacancy.”
Court expansion is not a novel or new idea. Congress expanded the number of seats on the Supreme Court seven times between 1790 and 1869. Nine justices made sense for a country that at one point had only nine federal circuits.
Last year, Sen. Ed Markey joined Reps. Hank Johnson, Mondaire Jones and Jerrold Nadler in announcing the Judiciary Act of 2021, which would expand the current number of seats from nine to 13. Proponents of the Judiciary Act say the Court’s current makeup has not kept up with the pace of the country.
“Thirteen justices would mean one justice per circuit court of appeals, consistent with how the number of justices was originally determined, so each justice can oversee one circuit,” Johnson said in a prior statement. “It’s time that we start thinking about the Supreme Court like we think about the rest of the federal government and consider whether and how its current composition allows it to effectively do what we need it to do — efficiently and effectively administer justice and uphold the rule of law.”
Brown’s nomination and ultimate confirmation will not change the balance of power on the Court, but as we’ve seen from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, there is power in a strong dissent. Brummer said structural reform will support expanding the Court’s diversity.
“We need to have strong dissent on the court,” Brummer said. “Of course, we need to have these strong opinions, but we also want to have opinions that uphold our democracy. And the current configuration of this Court doesn’t allow for that.”