Where's the Bill to Add 20 Seats to the Supreme Court?

You don't start a negotiation by presenting your final offer.

Where's the Bill to Add 20 Seats to the Supreme Court?
Photo by Unsplash

I've been thinking about the Supreme Court even more than usual lately now that it's agreed to hear a second abortion case this term, as well as a horrifying suit over whether homeless people can use blankets and pillows to sleep outside if there are no safe shelters.

The high court is totally unaccountable to the public and needs to be re-balanced by adding seats, among other reforms. There's a bill to add four seats to the court called the Judiciary Act of 2023, but my question is this: Where did the Democrats learn to negotiate? You don't start a negotiation by presenting your final offer. So if the goal is to add at least four seats to the court, why is that the only bill that's been introduced in Congress?

Republicans do this kind of Overton-window shifting all the time. One state-level example is the Ohio legislature passing two abortion bans in 2016: one prohibiting the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy and one after 20 weeks. They were both unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade because they sought to ban abortion before a fetus is viable outside the uterus. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed the six-week ban then, on the very same day, signed the 20-week ban into law. See what they did there? Kasich got to act "sensible" by swatting away the more transformative measure. (Then in 2018, Mississippi passed a 15-week ban, and that's the law the Supreme Court used overturn Roe.)

Now, Democrats don't control both chambers of Congress, just the Senate. But I see no good reason why someone like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) or Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) shouldn't introduce a competing bill to add 20 or 30 seats to the court. If a party is trying to achieve a difficult political goal (see: Republicans ending Roe), they can help themselves with what are effectively messaging bills. Maybe some lawmakers actually do want to add 20 seats to the court, but it's not happening anytime soon. But adding four feels like it will take even longer without a comparatively more "radical" bill waiting in the wings.

And if news outlets covered Supreme Court scandals with the thirst they directed at Ivy League presidents, Democrats would have even more seats on the bench to fill.

A girl can dream, can't she?


  • I wrote for Jezebel last week on why debate moderators are asking the wrong questions about abortion, then a separate piece about how CNN's questions were particularly stupid.
  • MSNBC's Ayman Mohyeldin did a segment on Sunday about the dark money behind the abortion pill lawsuit, citing this great story from The 19th. He also showed some of my reporting on the judge in the case at 3:00 into the clip.
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