Mass. delegation members take court reform proposal on the road

U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley speaks during the “Just Majority” Bus Tour Kick-off event in Copley Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley speaks during the “Just Majority” Bus Tour Kick-off event in Copley Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation are going on tour to tout a plan to change the Supreme Court.

Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and a coterie of advocates for issues ranging from abortion to gun control to LGBTQ+ rights, took part in the tour's inaugural event in Copley Square. They spoke standing in front of a bus that will carry them along a 20-city "Just Majority" tour, pitching new legislation to expand the nation's top court and require its members to meet new, tougher ethical standards.

"We deserve and demand a Supreme Court representative of the people and capable of upholding the law," Pressley said.

The tour, which as of Monday afternoon did not appear to have any further confirmed dates or locations listed on its website, comes on the heels of a ProPublica report about the cozy relationship between Justice Clarence Thomas and billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow. The Crows would host the Thomas family on lavish vacations around the world, providing private jets and time on luxury yachts, none of which Thomas reported in his financial disclosures. Thomas, who defended his actions, has also been criticized in the past for not recusing himself in cases where his wife, Ginny Thomas, has expressed political interest.

Markey said American rights were "under siege" by a "broken" court.

"Our most fundamentally held freedoms are under siege, and it will only get worse," Markey said. "We must act now to rebuild an expanded, fair and ethical Supreme Court."

Markey called the court illegitimate, pointing to two specific nominations. Justice Neil Gorsuch was nominated by former President Donald Trump and confirmed along party lines after Republicans refused to consider former President Barack Obama's nominee replace Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. And in 2020, another Trump appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, was nominated and confirmed to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, despite the vacancy coming close to an election — which is why Republican senators said they could not consider Obama's 2016 appointee.

To rectify what it said is wrong about the court, the Massachusetts politicos touted several measures, including expanding the court to include more members.

"The Constitution gives Congress the ability to check the Supreme Court's power, including by changing its size — no constitutional amendment." Warren said. "This is something — changing the size of the court — that has been done seven times in the past."

The current nine-justice makeup of the court has been in place since 1869.

The group would also press to create mandatory ethical and financial reporting for the justices. The high court is not currently required to follow the ethical guidelines set for lower courts.

"No one should have to wonder whether the justices who heard their case ignored their law because his wife had a stake in the outcome, or his friend, who takes him on a half-million-dollar vacations wanted him to rule a certain way," Warren said.

With reporting from the WBUR newscast unit.

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Roberto Scalese Senior Editor, Digital
Roberto Scalese is a senior editor for digital.



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