Democrats Renew Call to Pack Supreme Court (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
By Jack Gournell | Thursday, 02 September 2021 04:58 PM
Democrats are again calling to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with four more members after the court declined to block a Texas law that makes abortions illegal six weeks after pregnancy.
"Democrats can either abolish the filibuster and expand the court, or do nothing as millions of peoples’ bodies, rights, and lives are sacrificed for far-right minority rule. This shouldn’t be a difficult decision," Sen. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. tweeted.
Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., also tied the call for court packing to the Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down President Joe Biden's extension on the pandemic-inspired federal eviction ban.
"In the span of one week the Supreme Court forced 11 million households to face eviction and effectively overturned Roe v. Wade in the middle of the night," Bush tweeted. "This is what far-right extremism looks like. We need to expand the court."
The high court's action on Wednesday did not overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that granted women the constitutional right to an abortion, but it did allow Texas to bypass Roe's requirements allowing abortions, at least on a temporary basis.
Texas' law technically bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is about five or six weeks into a pregnancy.
"There is no middle ground when it comes to fundamental rights and liberties," said Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y. "There is only one way to take seriously the threat of the Supreme Court majority and protect millions of Americans. We must #ExpandTheCourt."
Jones, along with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., are sponsors of the Judiciary Act, which aims to add four members to the court to counter the conservative leaning it has seen as a result of former President Donald Trump's appointments.
Especially galling to Democrats are Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, whose confirmations they believe to be illegitimate.
"This Supreme Court abortion ruling cannot be the last word. Senate Democrats have the power to fix this problem right now by abolishing the filibuster and passing my legislation to expand the Supreme Court," Markey tweeted.
But such a move is seen as unlikely; moderate Sen. Joe Machin, D-W.Va., has voiced opposition both to abolishing the filibuster and to expanding the court. His vote would be vital to the latter in an evenly split 50-50 Senate. Biden denounced the high court's 5-4 ruling as "an unprecedented assault on a woman's constitutional rights."
He took particular aim at a provision of the bill passed by Republican lawmakers in Texas that allows members of the public to sue doctors who perform abortions after six weeks or anyone facilitating the procedure.
"By allowing a law to go into effect that empowers private citizens in Texas to sue health care providers, family members supporting a woman exercising her right to choose after six weeks, or even a friend who drives her to a hospital or clinic, it unleashes unconstitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts," Biden said.
"Complete strangers will now be empowered to inject themselves in the most private and personal health decisions faced by women," he said.
Biden said he was launching a "whole-of-government effort" to "see what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions."
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said she was "devastated."
"Right now, people seeking abortion across Texas are panicking — they have no idea where or when they will be able to get an abortion, if ever," Northup said. "We will keep fighting this ban until abortion access is restored in Texas."
'Set Back the Hands of Time'
Similar laws banning abortion in the early stages of pregnancy have been passed by the legislatures of a dozen Republican-led conservative states, but all had been stymied in the courts.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and other groups filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court on Monday asking it to stop the Texas law from taking effect.
But the court, which was revamped under then President Donald Trump with the nomination of three conservative justices, refused to block the legislation late Wednesday.
The five most conservative justices on the court — including the three nominated by Trump — said they would allow the Texas law to take effect while the other four justices said it should be put on hold.
Generally conservative Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the three liberal justices and called the law "not only unusual, but unprecedented."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal, said her justice colleagues had "opted to bury their heads in the sand" over a "flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights."
Like Biden, Sotomayor criticized the controversial provision that allows private citizens to bring civil suits to enforce the abortion ban, rewarding them with $10,000 for a successful prosecution.
"It cannot be the case that a State can evade federal judicial scrutiny by outsourcing the enforcement of unconstitutional laws to its citizenry," she said.
According to the ACLU, approximately 85 to 90 percent of the women who obtain an abortion in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy.
Roe v. Wade guaranteed the right to an abortion in the United States so long as the fetus is not viable outside the womb, which is usually the case until the 22nd to 24th week of pregnancy.
The Supreme Court is also due to hear a case in the coming months involving a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergency or a severe fetal abnormality.
AFP contributed to this report.