Democrats concerned about the Supreme Court’s increasingly conservative lean have a new friend on the campaign trail: Pete Buttigieg.
The beloved mayor of South Bend, Indiana, made waves last week when he unveiled his plan to reform our country’s highest court. Under Buttigieg’s vision, the Supreme Court would be expanded from 9 to 15 members — 5 conservatives and 5 liberals with lifetime tenure, plus 5 others who would serve one-year appointments, and whom the other 10 must agree on. In the event that the 10 ideologue justices couldn’t settle on 5 others, the court would be forced to suspend its operations for one year.
Buttigieg is so far the only presidential candidate to offer a specific path for reforming the Supreme Court. It’s probably a good thing his ideas have yet to catch on: This could turn the Court into another gridlocked, dysfunctional institution.
The plan was developed by two law professors (one of whom was Buttigieg’s college buddy), and has already received a fair amount of criticism for being half-baked, unconstitutional, and overly bureaucratic. But worst of all, the proposal suffers from shortsighted logic, as the system would, in fact, mandate transparent partisanship in the Court. In Buttigieg’s mind, balancing the parties on the Court would make it more evenhanded. But in reality, it would only transform the Court into a partisan body incapable of doling out balanced justice.
In a Court comprised mostly of explicit partisans, there’s a higher likelihood that decisions would be publicly interpreted as supporting one political party or the other. This leaves the dangerous possibility of half the public disagreeing, or (worse) not accepting, the Court’s ruling. The Supreme Court has only as much authority as people believe it has. If the Court started issuing opinions that most people found to be preposterous, or rulings that people accepted — or didn’t — based on their partisanship, it could lose its legitimacy as a judicial body. Scholarship shows that the Court’s been forced to strike a careful balance throughout history, playing the role…