Restoring Integrity and Balance to the Supreme Court 


 The U.S. Supreme Court is in desperate need of reform. Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed a rapid erosion of trust in the American judicial system as ethics scandals and precedent shattering decisions by the Court have become commonplace occurrences. We must take urgent action to address these issues.

Last year, the Supreme Court stripped away the abortion rights of millions of Americans by overturning Roe v. Wade in a decision that made a mockery of the Senate confirmation testimony of several justices. And in the year since, the Court has taken additional liberties with the law and precedent – allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, weakening environmental protections and ending affirmative action. 

How did we get here? 

Several years ago, Mitch McConnell successfully packed the Supreme Court by refusing to allow Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland to receive even a hearing after President Obama nominated him almost a year before the election. Later, in the most shockingly hypocritical fashion, McConnell jammed through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett during in the last moments of the Trump presidency – while people were literally voting for Joe Biden. 

As a result of McConnell’s efforts to game the system, the Supreme Court now has two conservative justices who would not have otherwise been on the Court. These two justices – Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – testified during their confirmation hearings that they would abide by precedent, particularly when it came to Roe. But they did not. As it stands today, the Supreme Court is not a conservative court – not in a legal sense, as a conservative court would have respect for precedent – it is a partisan and reactionary court. 

We must restore integrity and balance to the Court. We can accomplish that by expanding the Court so it is no longer stacked with partisan justices and by implementing term limits so that no justice is granted a lifetime seat on the Court, but rotates back onto the appeals court or district court after 18 years. We also must implement an enforceable code of ethics for justices – because they should not be above the very laws that they are meant to interpret. 

In addition to negating the rights and protections formerly enjoyed by millions of Americans, Supreme Court justices have recently been caught in several ethical scandals that raise serious concerns about the impartiality of their decision-making. Justice Clarence Thomas was recently alleged to have undisclosed ties to Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow, from whom he received numerous benefits of considerable monetary value. He also reportedly allowed an elite organization unusual access to the Court, and in turn benefitted from his relationships with members of the organization. Justice Samuel Alito traveled on the dime of another Republican mega-donor, Paul Singer, who had interests before the Court. The spouse of Justice Roberts is reported to have received income from lawyers and firms with business before the Court and it has been alleged that Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff urged libraries and universities to purchase copies of her book in advance of her appearance at these institutions.

I’m proud to be leading several efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives to reform the Court. The Judiciary Act, which I joined Congressman Hank Johnson in leading this year, will expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices and restore balance. I also introduced the Justice is BLIND Act and supported the Supreme Court Ethics Act to codify ethical guidelines for Supreme Court justices around financial dealings and to create an enforceable accountability system. We also need term limits for justices, which is what the Supreme Court TERM Act will establish. I firmly believe that these reforms can only advance if we abolish the filibuster, something I am also committed to achieving. 

There is much work to be done and getting this legislation passed in a Republican-led House will be a challenge. But we need to use every avenue we can to pass and implement these reforms now. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues in both chambers to restore confidence in the Supreme Court by rebalancing the court, implementing term limits and enacting an enforceable code of ethics. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) represents California’s 30th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.