On the stump, Mayor Pete Buttigieg frequently mentions how he owes his marriage to a single vote on the Supreme Court.
He’s not alone. For many Americans, decisions made by the Supreme Court have profound impacts on their personal lives.
But, increasingly, people have lost confidence that the Supreme Court, or any federal courts, will continue to uphold civil rights, in part due to the judges the Trump administration has appointed to the judiciary.
For example, New York City repealed its ban on conversion therapy so the city because they were worried that the Supreme Court would issue a ruling opposing the ban that broadly limits the city’s ability to take care of the LGBTQ community.
To fix these problems, Buttigieg has called for ending the politicization on the Supreme Court through restructuring, and possibly expanding it to 15 judges.
But that isn’t the only reform he’s considered.
“Maybe we should look at term limits, maybe we should rotate justices on or off the appellate bench,” Buttigieg said, referencing two common reform proposals. “All of these are constitutionally appropriate things we can do.”
Another change would be changing where judicial candidates come from.
Buttigieg said he’s amazed how many judges, across the judiciary, come from only a few schools, including Harvard, his alma mater.
“It’s interesting because there’s a striking lack of diversity of backgrounds in justices,” he said.
Part of Buttigieg’s criminal justice reform plan — the Douglass Plan — calls for changing that fact.
“We will ensure that the federal bench includes more women and people of color,” the plan reads. “We will also prioritize deepening the experience of the bench by appointing former public defenders and civil rights attorneys who share a commitment to the protection and expansion of civil rights and civil liberties.”
Judicial reform organizations like Demand Justice have called for changes like these.
“We must stock the federal judiciary with judges who have a more diverse array of experiences, who can help their colleagues more fully understand the competing perspectives on the law that come before them,” the organization wrote.
Buttigieg specifically said people like public defenders and those who work in legal aid should be appointed because they work in areas of law that touch people’s daily lives.
“I know a lot of profoundly important legal issues are unlikely to come up, maybe sometimes pro bono, but unlikely to come up in a prosecutorial or corporate law background,” he said.
Several cases coming before the Supreme Court this term address issues like those.
For example, arguments begin on October 4 for a group of three Supreme Court cases to decide whether sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the ban on sex discrimination in the workplace found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
“Some of the most interesting legal questions, certainly in South Bend, are handled not by any law firm or any public entity, but by the legal aid clinic and Notre Dame law school,” Buttigieg said.
His idea for expanding the Supreme Court comes from a paper in the Yale Law Journal, and he said looking to legal academia and research done there is a good idea, too.
“The points of law that I think you’re going to need to be negotiated by the judiciary through the rest of the 21st Century will require some really deep thinking,” he said.
At the end of the day, he asserts that reform is needed.
“Whether it’s the Court or any other aspect of our system that’s failing us, we should have the courage to have the debate about change and if it takes years to make that change, all the more reason that we should be working on it from day one,” Buttigieg said.
by Nikoel Hytrek