In the spring of 2014, after several years of trying, my family was selected in a national lottery for tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll. We were beyond thrilled. My husband and I decided to turn the two-hour event into a vacation. We planned several days of sightseeing that would give us the opportunity to show our children the seat of our country’s government and its historic landmarks. Although we didn’t make it inside the building that houses the U.S. Supreme Court, we visited the steps of the Marble Palace, as it’s known, and reveled in the judicial grandeur.
Fourteen months later, as I breathlessly watched media interns sprint to the cameras with the marriage equality ruling, I was taken back to my two young sons sitting in the exact same spot. I was proud of a Supreme Court, and a country, that officially recognized my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters as equals and made marriage equality the law of the land.
This brings into balance a nation that was founded on documents that prevented women, minorities and marginalized groups from full participation and denied them equal rights. It also breathed life into what I hold closest to me as a person of Christian faith — that each and every one of us is uniquely and joyfully created for good. That regardless of gender, sexual orientation, income, circumstance, race or personal beliefs we are all equal and worthy of justice.
I am incredibly sad to say that my confidence in the Supreme Court has plummeted since June 2015 as we’ve witnessed partisan appointments made outside the normal selection process, radicalized justices seeking to interpret the Constitution from an “originalist” perspective, and what looks like the insertion of justices’ personal religious views into our nation’s laws. All of these erode the confidence the country has in the court and its assumed impartiality. In the last month alone, the Supreme Court has eroded sovereign tribal rights, gutted Miranda rights, thwarted the EPA’s ability to regulate climate change, overturned a century-old gun safety law, allowed for redistribution of public tax dollars to religious schools and eliminated women’s reproductive freedom by overturning Roe v. Wade.
Just listing these rulings makes my head spin. We are in a completely different legal reality than we were even a few months ago. As a self-confessed political enthusiast, I’ve watched most of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings over the last 20 years. I have seen future justices claim Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, that their personal religious views wouldn’t have an impact on their rulings, and that they believed in upholding legal precedents. I can say with complete confidence that many of those hearings were lies. The court’s recent rulings prove it.
I don’t fault the justices for having personal religious beliefs that they strongly believe in. I do too. The issue is when our theology and politics as Christians are preempted by how we can weaponize our beliefs against others, instead of how we can utilize them for universal good. That makes our religion about control rather than redemption.
Last year, Pres. Joe Biden commissioned 36 academics and judicial experts from across the ideological spectrum to study the structure of the Supreme Court and make recommendations on improving it. The report was issued in December, well before the recent rulings, and made only minor suggestions. One member, former U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, said in a July 7 interview with Politico that her “reverence for the court made her resistant to large changes.”
But not now.
“It was a place of solidity and rational discourse. It really is not anymore,” Gertner said of the Supreme Court. “It really is a set of decisions that they did only because they can. And that is an exercise of pure power, not legal reasoning.”
What can be done about it? Because these are lifetime appointments there is no predetermined opportunity to bring the Supreme Court into balance. No way of predicting when the next opening will occur.
So, it’s time to expand the court.
The Judiciary Act of 1869 set the current court at nine justices, one for each circuit court — the last time the total number of Supreme Court justices was altered. Since then, our judicial system has expanded to include 13 circuit courts as our nation grew. Expanding the court through the legislative process certainly won’t be easy but it can be done. Our duly elected legislators need to act on the powers they’ve been given to rebalance a court that seems to be ruling on personal political and religious views rather than established precedent and clearly stated law.
I haven’t been back to Washington, D.C. since the White House Easter Egg Roll and I’m eager to revisit the hallowed grounds of our nation’s capital soon. Maybe next time I’ll be able to step inside the Marble Palace of the Supreme Court and behold the space where 13 justices work together to defend equality and freedom.
Meredith Browand is a mother and activist who lives in Purdy.
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