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Rep. Mondaire Jones Argues For An Expanded Supreme Court


President Biden has ordered the creation of a commission to look into potential reforms to the U.S. Supreme Court. The bipartisan group is to examine potential changes, including term limits for justices and expanding the number on the court. Many Republicans contend Democrats want to pack the court with liberal justices to blunt the power of the current conservative majority. Representative Mondaire Jones, a New York Democrat, is among those who wants to expand the court. We spoke with him yesterday and asked why.

MONDAIRE JONES: We are in an unprecedented moment in American history where there is now a hyperpartisan supermajority on the Supreme Court that is hostile to democracy itself. And so court expansion must be part of the response to that if we are to save our democracy. It is the same court that gutted the crown jewel of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby decision that opened the floodgates for voter suppression efforts like what we are seeing now in Georgia, a bill that would never have become law had we still the preclearance provision that the Roberts court struck down in 2013. Of course, it is the Supreme Court majority that decided the Citizens United case, opening the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending in effort to distort and steal our democracy. And so, seven times before, the Supreme Court has changed in size in American history, and now it's time to do it again.

SIMON: Representative Jones, let me ask you a question I'm sure you're going to be getting over the next few months and even years. It sounds like you wouldn't be doing this if there were a majority of Democratic appointees on the Supreme Court who agreed with your view of events.

JONES: And that is the misperception of advocates for court expansion in this moment. You know, it used to be that, regardless of which president appointed you to the Supreme Court, you would rule independently. Justice John Paul Stevens, Justice David Souter - both jurists on the Supreme Court, well-respected, highly regarded independent thinkers and both appointed by Republican presidents. Not so today, where you have partisan hacks now comprising that conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court. And of course, this is personal for me. I'm someone who waits every June, like other members of the LGBTQ community, to see whether the Supreme Court will grant us rights that we should have had a long time ago or take away rights. And for anyone who thinks that if we just update the preclearance provisions in the Voting Rights Act - well, now there's an even more conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and that same Voting Rights Act - was crown jewel the Supreme Court gutted in 2013 - was passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support in the early 2000s. And so we have this activist Supreme Court that is not respecting the will of Congress, even.

SIMON: Representative Jones, I'm sure a lot of people are going to hear you say - well, essentially, I think you did say that Chief Justice Roberts is a partisan hack. He did, for example, vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act. He's cast a number of votes that have been against what were certainly perceived to be Republican majority interests in Congress. You really want to call him a partisan hack?

JONES: There is a conservative majority now. Now it's a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court that I would, yes, call partisan hacks. The fact is, he has consistently been hostile to democracy. He understands that the party to which he belonged before he became a judge cannot compete on the merits of its policy ideas and so instead must disenfranchise large swaths of the American electorate if it is to be successful. And I think he just happens to be slightly less conservative than the other Republican-appointed justices on the court today.

SIMON: Well, you're accusing people of being conservative, and it gets back to the criticism that if you agreed with this court or if they agreed with you, it doesn't sound like you'd be up in arms about the number of people on the court.

JONES: I have focused my...

SIMON: I mean, does it introduce the idea that what you really want to do is expand the Supreme Court enough so that it agrees with you?

JONES: No, this is about an American electorate, Republicans and Democrats, who believe that the Voting Rights Act should be preserved and should never have been gutted in 2013. That's not partisanship. That is pro-democracy. And I think that as advocates for court expansion are allowed to make their case on terms that are pro-democracy, that the argument is one that is unifying and that everyone can rally around.

SIMON: Do you need to expand the Supreme Court or win more elections?

JONES: You can't win elections when people are disenfranchised, which is what the Supreme Court has been doing as an accomplice to the right-wing assault on our democracy through voter suppression efforts like what we're seeing in Georgia with SB 202.

SIMON: Representative Mondaire Jones of New York, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

JONES: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.