Washington, D.C.- The United States Supreme Court plays an essential role in upholding and protecting the constitutional and civil rights of Black Americans and other people of color. However, in recent years, the public has begun to lose faith in the Court’s independence and legitimacy, weakening a key institution of our democracy. The politicization of the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justices, regressive decisions like Shelby County v. Holder (voting rights), and the disproportionate impact of power concentrated in a small number of Justices serving decades on the nation’s highest court contribute to this trend, among other issues. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law submitted comments on Monday to the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States to address these challenges.
The comments focus on four central recommendations for reforming the high court: the creation of an eighteen-year term limit on the tenure of Supreme Court Justices, adoption of an ethical code of conduct binding on Supreme Court Justices, halting Supreme Court orders without full briefing or a full written opinion (resulting from the rising number of emergency applications that has come to be known as the “shadow docket”), and reforming the U.S. Senate’s advice and consent role during the Supreme Court nomination process.
“Our progress as a nation depends upon having a federal judiciary that embodies a commitment to fairness for everyone. That commitment must be reflected in the decisions, rules, and structure of every federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “When the public believes that the high court follows the order of a political party and not the rule of law, then the checks and balances that hold our system in place become nothing more than window dressing.”
The Lawyers’ Committee recommendations offer sound options for reforming the Supreme Court. Some of the recommendations enjoy support from across the political spectrum, such as modifying life tenure for Supreme Court Justices to address the lack of turnover. Other recommendations address issues of ensuring the appearance of impartiality and ethical behavior among the Justices and increasing the likelihood that every nominee to the nation’s highest court receives a fair and thorough confirmation process, and that any changes to the timeline for that process are for non-political, prudential considerations that are evenly applied regardless of which political party is in the Senate majority.
“Because the Supreme Court is the final arbiter as to the most contentious issues of the day it is essential that the public believes the Court to be impartial and free of political pressure,” said Judge Shira Scheindlin, co-chair of the board of directors for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “As the country has become more polarized, so has the Supreme Court. Scholars, lawmakers, and the public at large have all recognized that the time has come to embrace commonsense, effective, and transparent reforms to our judicial system.”
In April 2021, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order creating the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States to analyze arguments for and against Supreme Court reform. The Supreme Court has played an invaluable role in advancing the rights of Black Americans and other people of color, and enforcing equal protection under the law when people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and women lacked protections under state laws. Its future role as a forum for equal justice required serious consideration and adoption of key reform measures. The Lawyers’ Committee has carefully considered various reform proposals and made substantive recommendations which it is pleased to submit to the Commission for its consideration.
Read the comments here .