Clarence Thomas targeted in Supreme Court expansion push

A group of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday announced the reintroduction of legislation that would expand the Supreme Court by adding four seats.

While speaking about the legislation—the Judiciary Act of 2023—Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts singled out recent allegations made against Justice Clarence Thomas as a reason for supporting the act.

Thomas has received criticism following an April report by ProPublica—a nonprofit investigative journalism organization—that alleges Thomas and his wife, Ginni, had taken numerous trips over the past 20 years paid for by Texas billionaire Harlan Crow. The report cites interviews and documents in describing how the couple allegedly took trips on Crow’s private jet and yacht and failed to disclose many of them. Another ProPublica report detailed how Crow paid Thomas and his family $133,363 for real estate properties that the justice did not disclose.

“Justice Thomas should resign from the Supreme Court of the United States. We have to remind him that we have a system of constitutional checks and balances, not checks for balances,” Markey said during a press conference on the Judiciary Act. “That is what we must now fight to ensure happens in our country.”

Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at the Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Democratic lawmakers are pushing to expand the Supreme Court to 13 justices. At least one of those Democrats said allegations against Thomas is a reason to support the court’s expansion.
Drew Angerer/Getty

Other Democrats supporting the Judiciary Act are Senators Tina Smith of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Cori Bush of Missouri and Adam Schiff of California.

The Judiciary Act was first introduced in 2021. In its current form, the legislation would expand the Supreme Court by adding four additional seats to create a 13-justice bench.

“When something is broken, we don’t just agonize; we organize. We don’t have the luxury of waiting to see if the court will issue radical, partisan rulings that shift the foundations of freedom under our feet. We now know it will happen. It’s only a question of when and who the court is going to target next,” Markey said.

He continued, “So let’s start with undoing the Republicans’ thievery and adding four seats to the court. Congress can do it by passing the Judiciary Act. Expanding the court is constitutional. Congress has done it before and Congress must do it again now.”

Laurence Tribe, professor emeritus of constitutional law at Harvard University, has written in the past about his support for expanding the court. He told Newsweek that there are reasons beyond the allegations against Thomas.

“I continue to favor major reforms of the Supreme Court, including enlarging it from nine to thirteen, partly to offset the way that the Court was stacked in a far-right direction with three appointments of dubious legitimacy by the Trump administration under the influence of major Republican donors and as orchestrated by Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society,” Tribe said in an email.

He added, “I certainly would not treat the recent problems that have surfaced with respect to any one Justice, whether Clarence Thomas or Neil Gorsuch or any other Member of the Court, as a ‘prime reason’ for the structural reforms, including Court expansion, that I think are clearly needed.

“The problems that beset this Court are far deeper and broader than any such focus would suggest.”

Newsweek has contacted a spokesperson for the Supreme Court via email for comment.

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