The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end abortion rights protection at the federal level in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling has Republicans on defense. It also has the Supreme Court at historically low approval ratings. The Court is so unpopular right now that even the most cautious Democrat should comprehend that there is no political jeopardy in reforming it. The jeopardy is in the status quo, and allowing this monster created by Mitch McConnell, the Federalist Society, and Donald Trump to further erode decades of progress and the Constitution itself.
The lates NBC News tracking poll doesn’t just show Democrats gaining in House races this election, it shows a deeply unpopular Supreme Court, with approval plummeting in the past 18 months. Since January 2021, the Court has gone from a 19% negative rating in NBC’s survey to a 42% disapproval rating. Just 35% of respondents approve of the Court now, down from 44% at the beginning of President Biden’s term, and 42% have negative opinions about it.
Broken out demographically, the change is even more dramatic. “Men went from a net positive of 28 percentage points in January 2021 to a net negative of 1. Women went from a net positive of 22 to a net negative of 13.” Among age groups, the only cohort that the Court isn’t under water with are people aged 50-64, and even there, support for the court has eroded from a plus 37 to a plus 5, a very big drop.
And check this out: a 45% swing among independents into deep negative territory for the Court.
Of course the justices on the Court don’t need to worry about how hated they are. They have their jobs for life—as it stands now, anyway, and don’t have to think about reelection and keeping the American electorate happy. The five extremists who comprise the court’s majority (reinforced by an occasional dip of the toe into the right-wing swamp by Chief Justice John Roberts) can do pretty much as they please as it now stands, without fear of reprisal.
They need to be feeling some fear right about now. They need to know that their power to rule against the will of the majority will not go unchecked. Congress and the president have to step in to save the institution by reforming it.
The most obvious and quickest solution is to add more justices to counter the court-packing McConnell and Trump have inflicted on us. There are a variety of other creative and smart solutions on top of increasing the number, which could include term limits; a process of rotating judges from federal courts onto the Supreme Court for a specified term; allowing each incoming president to appoint two justices at the beginning of their term in office; Congress could restrict the court’s jurisdiction or impose supermajority requirement on decisions; and Congress can always overrule the Supreme Court. They can, that is, if there are sufficient majorities to do that.
But right now, with the threat that those six pose not just to the legitimacy of the court but to the health of the nation, something’s got to happen. Expanding the court should be where to start.
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