The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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LGBTQ+ Groups Call for Expanding Supreme Court, Lifting Filibuster

Filibuster protest

LGBTQ+ legal groups are calling for an expansion of the Supreme Court, a code of ethics for justices, an end to the Senate filibuster, and other reforms in light of recent decisions by the high court that they say have undermined its legitimacy.

“We believe the time is long past due to recommit to the essential protections of liberty and equality and the right to vote for all Americans and for generations to come,” said a statement issued Friday by Lambda Legal, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center. “The Supreme Court has lost the public’s confidence in its integrity and has eroded its own legitimacy.”

In an additional statement, Lambda Legal said these recent decisions constituted “legally unsound and devastating upending of long-settled precedents, heedless of the harmful impacts on the American people.”

Lambda cited the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed states to ban or severely restrict abortion, as well as decisions that weakened the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority, undermined church-state separation, expanded gun rights, and more.

“To justify its elimination of some protections and substantial constriction of others, this Court has employed ahistorical readings of American history, and a bizarre mode of analysis that limits essential rights exclusively to those that ostensibly were recognized and enjoyed by the people who had full legal status a century or two ago, thus excluding any specific legal needs of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people, among others,” Lambda Legal wrote.

The joint statement calls on the Senate to lift the filibuster rule, under which it takes 60 votes to end debate on a bill and move to a vote on the bill itself, “at least to allow Senate consideration of Supreme Court reform and voting rights restoration.”

The groups seek passage of the Judiciary Act of 2021, which would increase the number of justices on the court to equal the number of circuits in the federal judiciary, which is 12. They also urge passage of For the People Act of 2021 and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, both of which would expand and protect voting rights, and the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which would make the District of Columbia a state called Douglass Commonwealth, named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and giving it voting representation in Congress. These three bills have all passed the U.S. House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate.

Lastly, the organizations call for an enforceable code of ethics for Supreme Court justices. Concerns about justices’ political involvement have been raised recently due to the connections of Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Lamba Legal cited “the specter of justices refusing to recuse in situations presenting blatant conflicts of interest.”

“Recent confirmation processes especially have flouted public expectations of openness and fairness, and the lack of enforceable ethics rules for confirmed justices leaves them unaccountable for actions considered unethical when committed by other federal judges,” Lambda Legal added. “As a result of the Senate’s process failures and the now-overwhelming record of the Court erasing critical legal protections via legally unsound, results-driven reasoning, public confidence in the Court’s integrity is lost.”

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