2020 Dem Debates: Deafening Silence on SCOTUS
As Republicans do victory laps on their efforts to shape the federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t get more than a passing reference in the most recent round of Democratic presidential debates. That means ABC and Univision – hosts of September’s debate – have all the more reason to ask a question about court reform. LA Times writer Michael McGough laid out some potential questions the moderators could ask.
Court watchers, including nonpartisan reform advocate Fix the Court, were among those who were frustrated not to see any discussion of the Supreme Court during the last round of Democratic presidential debates. Jacqueline Thomsen at The Hill (now at National Law Journal) interviewed FTC’s Gabe Roth on the contrast between 2020 and 2016:
“I think the Democrats have had some catching up to do in terms of making the Supreme Court a hallmark campaign issue,” Roth said.
The Fulcrum got it right that Democrats need to get serious about the judiciary. But what they got wrong is equally important: introducing term limits to the court could be done through legislation and would not require a constitutional amendment. That’s the kind of misconception that could get cleared up if candidates engage in a substantive discussion about SCOTUS reform at the next round of debates.
Reminder: Recent polling shows 77% of likely voters support Supreme Court term limits, and more than a few 2020 candidates have forwarded proposals for term limits, court packing, or some other form of structural reform.
Senators, 2020 Hopefuls Sound Off on SCOTUS Reform
Even without a question on stage in Miami or Detroit, the 2020 SCOTUS reform conversation continues on the campaign trail and in the halls of the U.S. Senate. VICE News tracked where politicians — including Democratic presidential hopefuls and senators from both sides of the aisle — stand on court reform.
Read more on the lively debate behind reform the nation’s highest court, from Matt Laslo: The One Way Trump Has Changed America That Democrats Cannot Fix
Harry Reid Backs SCOTUS Term Limits
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has officially joined Team Term Limits. Here’s what Senator Reid had to say in an interview with Sam Stein at The Daily Beast.
“Maybe I have no basis for talking about this because I’m in my seventies—in my eighties before too long. I have never favored term limits,” said Reid. “But when the Constitution was written, no one ever expected judges to live to be 80 years old. Now they’re going into their nineties in some places around the federal court system. So I think that we have to jiggle that around a little bit. I think that’s something we need.”
Pew: Rs and Ds Growing Further Apart on Supreme Court
A survey by Pew Research Center showed a 26% gap — among the widest it’s been in two decades — between Republicans (+ R-leaning independents) and Democrats (+ D-leaning independents) in how they view the Supreme Court. About 75% of Rs have a favorable view of the court, while just 49% of Ds do. The gap is among the widest it’s been in two decades.
How could term limits help? Ending life tenure would regularize the confirmation process, lower the temperature on each individual appointment, and lessen the incentive for presidents and their parties to nominate the youngest, most ideological judges possible.
It also helps that ending life tenure for SCOTUS justices is one of the few issues voters across the political spectrum support and that leaders from both parties have endorsed. Seriously: can you name anything else Rick Perry, Ben Carson, Ro Kanna and Harry Reid have all agreed on?
What’s the Best Way to Diversify the Court?
A new proposal urging the next occupant of the White House to avoid nominating judges with backgrounds in corporate law to the federal judiciary is garnering attention. As The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin notes in his write-up, the proposal would lead to much-needed diversity in career backgrounds among federal judges.
However, the Supreme Court faces a bigger diversity problem than just the career backgrounds of justices. Of the 113 justices in U.S. history, only 6 have been anything other than white men. A more diverse bench would mean that decisions shaping the lives of racial minorities, women, and LGBTQ people might actually include members of those communities in the decision-making process.
Term limits would help address the court’s lack of diversity by increasing turnover of justices, widening the pool of legal minds for consideration, and lessening the incentive presidents currently face to choose the youngest, most ideologically pure nominee.