Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
I find the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to be numbingly harrowing. A woman’s right to an abortion — which concerns not just the right to bodily autonomy, but also the right to freedom of religion, privacy and financial and emotional wellbeing — is no longer federally protected. The Environmental Protection Agency no longer has the authority to compel coal power plants to switch to renewables under the Clean Air Act. Residents can now carry concealed guns in public without providing a specific reason. With the issuing of these seemingly regressive decisions by the Supreme Court over the past few weeks, I find many reasons to be worried for the future of American democracy.
Just after the country processed one decision, another one was announced. There was no time to grieve the loss of reproductive rights before being terrified at the prospect of how we can possibly combat climate change, which threatens our very existence. There was no time to process the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization before reading the concurring one, in which Justice Clarence Thomas calls on the court to “reconsider” the rights to contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. Worst yet, I’m writing this on July 4, just after there was another mass shooting in Illinois during a parade.
The nation is constantly pivoting, fumbling, trying to get a grasp on what this means for our lives and our futures. While some try to use esoteric legal technicalities to mask it, there is no denying that the rights and protections we’ve held dear are in jeopardy. The 59 percent of Americans who want their lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws are probably feeling this way. So are the 53 percent of Americans willing to combat climate change with new policies, and so are the 56 percent of Americans who oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson.
The Supreme Court doesn’t have to reflect public opinion. But these opinions that neglect reality to speculate the wishes of flawed people who lived and died centuries ago act as both a disservice and a danger to Americans. While some have suggested expanding the Supreme Court as a solution, the only way to truly fix this problem is to fix the systems that got us here in the first place. By implementing term limits for Supreme Court justices and putting restrictions on the Electoral College, we can finally put an end to ill-fitting representatives of the American people holding onto power for decades.
Court expansion may be unlikely, if not impossible, in today’s polarized political climate. And simply expanding the court by adding more justices wouldn’t address the systemic flaws at hand: a handful of people are given the power to change the law for, oftentimes, the rest of their lives. But there are two plausible solutions that would allow for the court to be composed of nominees who were appointed by officials who were truly elected by the people, which would dismantle the near-limitless power possessed by the justices.
The first would be for states to enact National Popular Vote Interstate Compact legislation, which would allow for the electoral vote to be given to the candidate who wins the popular vote on the national level. This would not go into effect until enough states have joined to reach 270 electoral votes. But, unlike abolishing the Electoral College altogether, this legislation would not require a constitutional amendment, and 15 states as well as Washington, D.C., have approved the legislation. With this legislation enacted, the only individual who would be allowed to appoint potential Supreme Court justices would be presidents whom the majority of Americans wanted in office, rather than one who lost the popular vote, such as former President Donald Trump, who was still able to appoint three justices to the Supreme Court.
Another solution would be to put an end to the life tenure awarded to Supreme Court justices, which can last upwards of 30 years. Congress could pass a law that would limit the terms of justices, a policy that has been supported by conservative representatives in the past. Experts have suggested a term limit of 18 years, which would allow for a new nomination to the Supreme Court every other year, while keeping a total of nine justices. After their term, justices could serve on another federal appeals court. This means justices would not stay in power for decades as new presidents are elected and as Americans begin to desire new societal progressions.
It’s beyond clear that the Supreme Court has bordered on becoming an undemocratic institution for too long. But merely expanding the court will allow for the unrepresentative and exploitative tactics to continue. To protect not only democracy, but freedom, safety and life itself, we must reform the systemic flaws that are poisoning the Supreme Court.
Rebecca Scherr is a junior English and government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.