Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Top presidential hopefuls, except Biden, open to a Supreme Court revamp

Joe Biden

Joe Biden, attending a campaign event Friday in Iowa, said he opposes expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Top Democratic presidential candidates appear universally opposed to the major Supreme Court decisions that have recently reshaped American politics but are split on whether or even how to reshape the high court itself.

But controversial Supreme Court decisions, such as loosening the reins on campaign finance, allowing for extreme partisan gerrymandering and gutting the core of the Voting Rights Act, have at least some Democrats talking about overhauling the judicial branch.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt — another Democrat unhappy with a conservative-majority high court — championed legislation to add an additional six justices to the bench. His plan, which was dubbed "court packing," got nowhere in the end.

At a campaign event Friday in Iowa, Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden said he opposed expanding the number of justices.

"No, I'm not prepared to go on and try to pack the court, because we'll live to rue that day," the former vice president told the Iowa Starting Line.

Other Democratic hopefuls have offered other plans to remake the Supreme Court, where the majority of five conservatives could remain a long-term obstacle to lasting changes in the name of democracy reform.

During the first Democratic debates, Bernie Sanders said he opposed FDR-style court packing and offered an alternative.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

"We've got a terrible 5-4 majority conservative court right now," the Vermont senator said. "But I do believe constitutionally we have the power to rotate judges to other courts and that brings in new blood into the Supreme Court."

That idea isn't new — nor is it a radical liberal one.

Seven years ago, a University of Missouri law professor named Josh Hawley wrote a piece for National Affairs titled "The Most Dangerous Branch." He argued there was nothing inherently unconstitutional about rotating judges from the lower federal appeals courts through the Supreme Court. Now Hawley is in his first year as a Republican senator from Missouri, with a seat on the Judiciary Committee.

"Congress could stipulate that the Supreme Court be staffed with nine life-tenured judges drawn at random from the courts of appeals. These judges would serve on the Supreme Court for a term of several years, and then return to their original appointed posts on the lower appellate courts, to be replaced by another group of nine drawn by lot," he wrote in 2012. "Justices would thus acquire incentives for caution and moderation rather than judicial aggrandizement."

Among top-polling Democrats, only Sanders has mentioned rotating judges. Others in the presidential field have less defined strategies to mollify progressive voters upset by recent Supreme Court rulings – but few have ruled out court packing.

In March, both Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris told Politico they were open to the idea.

"It's a conversation that's worth having," Warren, a Massachusetts senator, said.

Harris, a senator from California whose polling has improved significantly since the first debate, said "everything is on the table." Harris also said she's "open" to another reform idea: applying term limits on justices, the pros and cons of which are debated in legal circles.

Biden, whose campaign website doesn't propose any changes in the judiciary, told a woman in Iowa last week that he opposes term limits for Supreme Court justices as well as court packing.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., appears to be the only candidate regularly polling as a top-five contender who explicitly supports growing the size of the Supreme Court. He has called for a court of 15 justices, with 10 "confirmed in the normal political fashion" and the others promoted from the lower courts "by unanimous agreement of the other 10."

Read More

Trump and Biden at the debate

Our political dysfunction was on display during the debate in the simple fact of the binary choice on stage: Trump vs Biden.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The debate, the political duopoly and the future of American democracy

Johnson is the executive director of the Election Reformers Network, a national nonpartisan organization advancing common-sense reforms to protect elections from polarization.

The talk is all about President Joe Biden’s recent debate performance, whether he’ll be replaced at the top of the ticket and what it all means for the very concerning likelihood of another Trump presidency. These are critical questions.

But Donald Trump is also a symptom of broader dysfunction in our political system. That dysfunction has two key sources: a toxic polarization that elevates cultural warfare over policymaking, and a set of rules that protects the major parties from competition and allows them too much control over elections. These rules entrench the major-party duopoly and preclude the emergence of any alternative political leadership, giving polarization in this country its increasingly existential character.

Keep ReadingShow less
Women holding signs to defend diversity at Havard

CHarvard students joined in a rally protesting the Supreme Courts ruling against affirmative action in 2023.

Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Project 2025: Affirmative action

Shapiro, a freelance journalist, was a newspaper editor for 30 years in California, Illinois and Iowa, including 21 years as executive editor of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

This is part of a series offering a nonpartisan counter to Project 2025, a conservative guideline to reforming government and policymaking during the first 180 days of a second Trump administration. The Fulcrum's cross partisan analysis of Project 2025 relies on unbiased critical thinking, reexamines outdated assumptions, and uses reason, scientific evidence, and data in analyzing and critiquing Project 2025.

The most celebrated passage in American history is honored in textbooks as a “self-evident” truth about equality.

We are schooled “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is a lofty proposition, but as the brainchild of two slaveowners — written by Thomas Jefferson at the behest of Benjamin Franklin — inherent contradictions exist.

Keep ReadingShow less
Computer image of a person speaking
ArtemisDiana/Getty Images

Overcoming AI voice cloning attacks on election integrity

Levine is an election integrity and management consultant who works to ensure that eligible voters can vote, free and fair elections are perceived as legitimate, and election processes are properly administered and secured.

Imagine it’s Election Day. You’re getting ready to go vote when you receive a call from a public official telling you to vote at an early voting location rather than your Election Day polling site. So, you go there only to discover it’s closed. Turns out that the call wasn’t from the public official but from a replica created by voice cloning technology.

That might sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but many New Hampshire voters experienced something like it two days before the 2024 presidential primary. They received robocalls featuring a deepfake simulating the voice of President Joe Biden that discouraged them from participating in the primary.

Keep ReadingShow less
Male and female gender symbols
Hreni/Getty Images

The Montana Legislature tried, and failed, to define sex

Nelson is a retired attorney and served as an associate justice of the Montana Supreme Court from 1993 through 2012.

In 2023, the Montana State Legislature passed a bill, signed into law by the governor, that defined sex and sexuality as being either, and only, male or female. It defined “sex” in the following manner: “In human beings, there are exactly two sexes, male and female with two corresponding gametes.” The law listed some 41 sections of the Montana Code that need to be revised based on this definition.

Keep ReadingShow less
Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley won the Congressional Management Foundation's Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility.

Official portraits

Some leaders don’t want to be held accountable. These two expect it.

Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

There is probably no more important concept in the compact between elected officials and those who elect them than accountability. One of the founding principles of American democracy is that members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents, both politically and morally. Most members of Congress get this, but how they demonstrate and implement that concept varies. The two winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility clearly understand and excel at this concept.

Keep ReadingShow less