US Supreme Court reform commission holds first meeting
Photo credit: Stephanie Sundier
US Supreme Court reform commission holds first meeting

US President Joe Biden’s 36-member commission to study US Supreme Court reforms met for the first time on Wednesday, following increased public pressure to add new court seats in response to the current court’s decision to take on a case that could upend Roe v. Wade, a landmark abortion rights case.

The commission was established through an executive order last month. It will focus on five topics, including “the genesis of the reform debate, the Court’s role in the Constitutional system, the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court, the membership and size of the Court, and the Court’s case selection, rules, and practices.” This initial meeting triggers the executive order’s requirement that the commission produce a report on its findings within 180 days of the first session.

Pressure from court reform advocates to expand the number of seats and mitigate the current 6-3 conservative lean has doubled down since the court decided to take up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Association. This case has the potential to change the current standard, which prevents state laws from creating a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking abortion before the fetus attains viability.” This standard protects abortion access from substantial infringement up until about 24-28 weeks. But a deviation from this standard may allow states to regulate abortion access as early as 15 weeks.

Although Justice Amy Coney Barrett has avoided questions about how she would rule in a case like this, abortion opponents hope she will vote alongside the other conservatives. In 2020, the court in June Medical Services v. Russo ruled 5-4 to strike down a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote, but he stated in a separate concurrence that he only went with the majority to honor the precedent set in an earlier case, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and felt that both cases were wrongly decided.