Our Supreme Court cannot be allowed to be transformed into an institution in which the nation’s political minority dictates the direction of policy from the bench. When the public demands change – when its leaders demand change – and reactionary voices from long ago are able to prevent that change due to lifetime appointments and their willingness to distort our Constitution’s meaning, democracy is undermined.
The last time a Democratic president sought to reshape American society, the Supreme Court proved to be the final bastion of support for the old order. It is our government’s most change-resistant institution. In a fireside chat to the nation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt explained the need for a new generation to be allowed the chance to choose their government’s policies, and asked the public to help protect democracy:
During the past half century the balance of power between the three great branches of the Federal Government, has been tipped out of balance by the Courts in direct contradiction of the high purposes of the framers of the Constitution. It is my purpose to restore that balance. You who know me will accept my solemn assurance that in a world in which democracy is under attack, I seek to make American democracy succeed. You and I will do our part.
President Roosevelt sought to enlarge the court as a solution to its justices having made themselves a “third branch of Congress”. His proposal – the threat of a truly progressive Supreme Court – led Southern Democrats to defect from the president and join forces with conservative Republicans. This political alliance eventually led to the “southern strategy” and a national politics dominated by racial fears and resentment.
When the next Democratic president seeks to reform our laws and institutions, they will inevitably face the same obstacles as Roosevelt. The challenge must be met head on. We believe that during the next period of unified Democratic government lawmakers must be prepared to use their Constitutional powers to expand the court from nine to twelve members. Doing so will not only strengthen the court and allow it to function more effectively, but would put an end to a conservative majority that views the court as an instrument of partisan warfare.
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