New Roosevelt Report Offers Bold Reforms to Restore Confidence in the Supreme Court

White paper evaluates proposals to ensure the Court serves the collective public interest

NEW YORK, NY – Following the controversial appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and amid growing public concern about the Court’s legitimacy as an independent institution, the Roosevelt Institute today released Off-Balance: Five Strategies for a Judiciary that Supports Democracy. This paper outlines several options for reforming the rules that govern today’s Supreme Court, one of the most anti-democratic, anti-worker benches in modern history.

In the paper, Roosevelt Fellow Todd N. Tucker analyzes constitutional law and historical precedent to identify five different paths for lawmakers to democratize the Supreme Court, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each proposal, which include:

  1. Adding justices to the bench through Court expansion;
  2. Removing justices through impeachment;
  3. Changing the Court’s jurisdiction;
  4. Ignoring or overriding Court decisions; and
  5. Amending the Constitution to authorize term limits, the election of justices, or the elimination of judicial review.

Although these measures are politically controversial, Tucker argues that all are achievable. By leveling the power of the Supreme Court’s current justices, either through tenure limits or by restricting the scope of their influence, each option would strengthen the Court’s accountability to the public and rebalance its impact on Americans’ lives. Adjusting the number of justices—there is just one justice for every 35 million Americans, compared to one for every 5 million under the last court expansion—can better ensure a Court in step with the American public.

“The Supreme Court is one of the most important rule-writers for our economy and democracy, but the Constitution gives Congress more power over the judiciary than is commonly understood,” said Todd N. Tucker, Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. “The size and power of the Court have been influenced by political forces throughout its history, and as conservatives increasingly deploy radical measures to reshape state courts—including expansion and impeachment—progressives should not be afraid to advance similar reforms at the national level to protect the interests of all Americans, not just the powerful.”

Tucker’s new paper extends his previous work on restructuring government institutions to support the interests of the many. An expert on judicial politics, Tucker has written on the Supreme Court for Politico and Jacobin Magazine. Tucker is also the author of Judge Knot: Politics and Development in International Investment Law, which explores how multinational corporations have used national courts to undermine government regulations.

About the Roosevelt Institute

Until the rules work for every American, they’re not working. The Roosevelt Institute asks: what does a better society look like? Armed with a bold vision for the future, we push the economic and social debate forward. We believe that those at the top hold too much power and wealth, and that our economy will be stronger when that changes. Ultimately, we want our work to move the country toward a new economic and political system: one built by many for the good of all.

It takes all of us to rewrite the rules. From emerging leaders to Nobel laureate economists, we’ve built a network of thousands. At Roosevelt, we make influencers more thoughtful and thinkers more influential. We also celebrate—and are inspired by—those whose work embodies the values of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and carries their vision forward today.