EMERGENCY: To save democracy, unions say Supreme Court reform an immediate necessity
Gary Roush, of College Park, Md., protests outside the Supreme Court, Monday, July 1, 2024, in Washington. | Mariam Zuhaib / AP

WASHINGTON—In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority ruling giving Donald Trump almost total absolute immunity forever from federal prosecution, unions and more than 100 progressive allies revived a dormant campaign to get Congress to change the court.

Organized by Demand Justice, the United for Democracy coalition – which includes the nation’s two big teachers’ unions, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), and The Workers Circle – plan a $10 million advertising blitz aimed at voters to get them to lobby lawmakers for an ethics code, term limits for justices, court expansion, and other reforms.

The point, they said, is to “restore balance” on the High Court bench, countering the ideological impact the radical right in general and the Federalist Society in particular, exercised during Trump’s regime from 2017-21.

But it’s also to try to preempt a further ideological tilt should Trump, the presumed GOP nominee, return to the Oval Office by defeating Democratic President Joe Biden.

“Our democracy is in an absolute crisis, and the Supreme Court majority is accelerating it,” Demand Justice senior advisor Skye Perryman told Politico, which broke the story. “We have a court that is not protecting our democratic institutions” with its rulings revoking a federal constitutional right to abortion, emasculating voting rights, and tilting against worker rights.

Reforming the court is important to workers and their allies. Testifying before a “court reform” commission Biden appointed early in his administration, AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker, a former National Labor Relations Board member, stated the court is so slanted against workers that unions don’t want to bring cases there, knowing they’ll automatically lose.

Whether they’ll get anywhere, particularly given the heated atmosphere of an election campaign, is dubious. Even the Democratic-run Senate has confined itself to hearings and jawboning on court reform. Biden buried his own commission’s findings.

But that doesn’t mean labor and its allies are not going to try. They spent $1 million on change-the-court ads last year. Now, they’ve upped the ante, and many of the reasons they gave then are still valid:

“Most of us want…a strong democracy that empowers each of us to shape our communities through our vote, allows us to access the same opportunities to succeed, and where everyone’s rights and freedoms are protected no matter their race or background,” National Education Association President Becky Pringle said then.

“Sadly, over the last several years, Americans have seen the extreme majority on the Supreme Court roll back our basic freedoms, side against workers’ rights, limit voting rights, and attack our public schools. Alarmingly, they are just getting started imposing their hyper-conservative, radical agenda.”

“The Supreme Court, in the pre-Dobbs era, had been the branch of American government most respected for ensuring the integrity of our constitutional democracy and the rule of law,” said AFT (Teachers) President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher who also has a law degree. Dobbs is the court’s 2022 ruling ending the federal constitutional right to abortion.

“We could count – and teach – the few cases that violated that trust…. Now, the current majority seems intent on routinely violating” it. The Republican-named justices, including the three Trump dumped on the court, “seem more than willing to be beholden to the wealthy few and seems callously uncaring about the impact its extremist majority decisions have had” when it trashes workers’ rights, sanctions gun violence, and bans abortion, among other things.

“From the environment to students to reproductive justice – when the Supreme Court issues rulings that benefit elites and corporations, rolls back the policies that are favored by most Americans, and attacks our core freedoms – working families are hurt the most. We must stand together to take back our court, not leave it in the hands of a few monied interests who don’t care about the rest of us,” said CLUW Executive Director Virginia Rodino.

“Extremists on the Supreme Court are imperiling our freedom and democracy, undermining voting rights, worker rights, abortion rights, as well as gun violence and environmental protections. Their collective actions have led to a civil liberties and humanitarian crisis,” said Ann Toback of The Workers Circle, which Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe founded over a century ago “after fleeing autocracy and persecution, and seeking democratic freedoms.”

“The Supreme Court should serve as the protector of our democracy and the guardian of our fundamental freedoms,” the coalition posted on its website.

“Today, extreme right-wing justices are exploiting their power, breaking judicial norms, and ignoring decades of legal precedent to impose their own radical agenda on our country. These justices aren’t following the law, they are making policy decisions that limit freedom for people across the country, and their power grab shows no signs of slowing.

“We’re demanding Congress rein in this extreme Supreme Court, so it can serve as a bulwark of our democracy, protecting the freedoms of all Americans.”

Besides the unions and Demand Justice, other organizations in the coalition include the Service Employees, which did not contribute a statement, NARAL-Pro Choice America, Black Lives Matter, MoveOn, the Drum Major Institute of Atlanta – chaired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s children – the National Employment Law Project, Indivisible, and four gun control groups.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.