Planned Parenthood has joined a growing chorus of left-wing voices calling for reforms in the federal court system, arguing that the current state of “abortion rights” is “emblematic” of a broader challenge within American democracy.
Announced on Sunday, Planned Parenthood’s proposal includes calls for court packing, term limits, and ethics requirements for judges. When asked, CEO Alexis McGill Johnson didn’t provide specifics for the number of justices or length of term limits.
She told MSNBC host and former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki that the abortion giant was supporting other voices, like NARAL’s, that had called for reforms.
“I think it’s really important to call for structural reforms because that is what actually sustains progress,” she said. “It would be one thing to call for a justice to step down for whatever reason but the reality is that the way in which the system has been captured requires us to engage in structural reform in a different way.”
McGill Johnson added that Planned Parenthood “felt like it was important for us to lend our voice in a moment where abortion rights is so clearly kind of emblematic of the challenge that we are seeing within our democracy.”
Current judges, she said, are “out of step” with majorities of the American public, and the courts’ “legitimacy” is therefore “in question.”
Her comments came after years of heavy judicial losses for the pro-abortion left. The Trump administration added a historic number of judges, including three of the Supreme Court justices who ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer.
Over the years, polling has shown varying opinions on abortion but has indicated somewhat contradictory opinions on Roe, which effectively allowed abortion up to birth with its companion decision in Doe v. Bolton. Although some polling shows support for Roe, Americans have historically favored at least some restrictions on abortion, and continue to do so, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll, which found that 66% of Americans think abortion should only be allowed, “at most, within the first three months during pregnancy.”
The NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll also found that the proportion of Americans who support pro-life laws “up to the time of cardiac activity at about 6 weeks” has increased from 27% to 40% since the overturning of Roe.
As president, Trump also appointed Texas judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who recently upended the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone — a decision that now lies with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Besides voting rights, McGill Johnson honed in on Kacsmaryk’s decision during her interview with Psaki. “The fact that you have, again, this lone Texas judge that can now bring cases – you can form shop there, bring cases to the Fifth Circuit, which is also conservative, and up to the Supreme Court now, which has a conservative majority.”
“Find a court you want to hear your case,” Psaki interjected in agreement. McGill Johnson responded, “Exactly,” adding, “and that is a way to circumvent … you know, kind of popularly elected opinions.”
McGill Johnson’s comments and proposals pointed to a view that’s at odds with the traditional understanding that judges should uphold the law rather than follow public opinion. Part of the reasoning behind maintaining lifelong terms for judges is that they shouldn’t be incentivized to worry about how their decision might hurt their electoral prospects.
Both Psaki and McGill Johnson seemed to be alluding to accusations that Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing doctors in the abortion pill case, “judge shopped” or searched for judges who would rule in their favor. Kacsmaryk is the only judge in that district court, making it a single-judge division – something Planned Parenthood is also targeting in its list of reforms.
“Interest groups can shop for judges who align with their views — often judges they’ve helped get confirmed — and then deliberately send them cases, knowing they will decide against reproductive freedom, gender equity, LGBTQ+ liberation, access to health care, and civil liberties,” the group claimed in a Sunday press release. And in fact, the abortion industry itself (including Planned Parenthood) has also “shopped for judges who align with their views” in countless cases.
Court reforms have been advanced by the left for years, and became especially prominent after Supreme Court Justices Kavanaugh’s and Barrett’s nominations. Congressional Democrats have proposed a court-packing proposal but the idea has encountered roadblocks from both President Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who reportedly said she wouldn’t bring the proposal to the floor for a vote.
As a 2020 presidential candidate, Biden resisted the idea of packing the courts. In 2021, President Biden convened a task force on reform more broadly, but the members declined to take a position on packing the Supreme Court. After the Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe, the White House clarified that Biden still opposed court packing.
An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted after Dobbs similarly showed a majority of Americans (54%) opposing expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court. Those results aligned with prior polling, although a Marquette Law School poll from September showed a slight majority (51%) of Americans supporting Supreme Court expansion.
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