Where 2020 Candidates Stand on Supreme Court Expansion: Campaign Week in Review

Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are among the candidates who would consider drastic measures to ensure the Supreme Court doesn't unravel constitutional rights.

[Photo: A split screen image of Elizabeth Warren on the left and Pete Buttigieg on the right.]
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are the top-tier candidates slated to speak at a Saturday forum on the Supreme Court and federal judiciary. Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images, Win McNamee / Getty Images

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How Would a Democratic President Approach the Federal Courts? 

The political battle to reclaim the the U.S. Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary from a legion of anti-choice judges appointed by President Donald Trump will be the focus of an upcoming presidential candidate forum in New Hampshire.

Three days before New Hampshire voters take to the polls for the state’s Democratic primary, 2020 candidates will discuss their approach to the federal courts at a Saturday forum titled “Our Rights, Our Courts.” The event could offer insight into the candidates’ stances on proposals like expanding the Supreme Court beyond its nine seats in order to maintain constitutional rights that could soon be overturned by conservative justices—including the right to abortion.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are the top-tier candidates slated to speak at the forum. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and billionaire activist Tom Steyer are also scheduled to appear.

The event at the New Hampshire Technical Institute will be hosted by All* Above All Action Fund, Demand Justice Initiative, NARAL, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate have rushed through judicial nominees since Trump took office, after grinding President Obama’s judicial appointments to a halt in the final years of his presidency. The result has been a potential nightmare scenario for reproductive rights advocates: More than 180 federal court judges have cleared the Senate over the past three years, many of them hostile to constitutionally protected abortion rights.

Warren was among the 2020 presidential candidates who told Politico in 2019 that she would “not rule out” expanding the Supreme Court, as President Franklin Roosevelt tried to do in 1937. Buttigieg has said he’d consider expanding the Court to 15 members, adding the final five only if the first ten justices voted unanimously to approve the new Supreme Court members.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has come out against court packing. So has Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), though he has suggested rotating justices onto appeals courts.

Eric Lesh, executive director of LeGaL, the LGBT Bar Association of New York, urged Democratic presidential candidates last year to lay out a plan for stopping the right-wing federal court takeover.

“This issue of judges and court reform needs to be at the very top of any Democratic president’s agenda if they want to have any chance at having their progressive priorities upheld,” Lesh wrote for Rewire.News.

Reforming the Supreme Court proved popular among Iowa voters. A Data for Progress survey of likely caucusgoers in Iowa showed solid support for Supreme Court expansion, with 59 percent of respondents saying they would “strongly support” or “somewhat support” adding seats to the Court. Only 14 percent said they “strongly oppose” the policy.

Aaron Belkin, executive director of advocacy organization Pack The Courts, told Politico last March that any presidential hopeful who doesn’t “give the voters an honest explanation” of how they would address Republican domination of the federal courts “shouldn’t be taken seriously as a candidate.”

Buttigieg Pushes Back on Later Abortion Care Restrictions

In a Thursday interview on ABC’s The View, Meghan McCain asked Buttigieg about his position on later abortion access. “It shouldn’t be up to a government official to draw the line, it should be up to the woman who is confronted with a choice,” Buttigieg replied.

After thunderous audience applause for Buttigieg’s response, McCain asked him if he would support “infanticide.” Conflating later abortion care and infanticide is a common tactic deployed by those who oppose reproductive rights.

“Does anyone seriously think that’s what these cases are about?” Buttigieg replied. “If this is a late-term situation, then by definition, it’s one where a woman was expecting to carry the pregnancy to term. Then she gets perhaps the most devastating news of her life.”

McCain told the Democratic candidate his position would hurt his chances with Republican voters in the general election. Meanwhile, 82 percent of Democrats support abortion rights in most or all circumstances, according to Pew Research Center polling released in August 2019.

Buttigieg, days after his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, said on The View that most people in the United States agree on the issue of abortion. He pushed back on those who use religious arguments to restrict or end access to abortion care.

“We live in a country where it is extremely important that no one person have to be subject to some other person’s interpretation of their own religion,” he said.

What Else We’re Reading

State of the Union rebuttal speeches from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Sanders provided stark contrasts for how to appeal to voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Vox reports.

Seven candidates have qualified for Friday evening’s New Hampshire Democratic presidential debate, according to FiveThirtyEight. Only five candidates so far have qualified for the next debate in Nevada on February 19—and billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn’t one of them, even after the DNC removed its donor threshold.