Where the Top Democratic Candidates Stand on the Supreme Court

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[Wordcloud from the 3rd Democratic Debate Transcript]

Here is a look at which Democratic candidates are on top of the polls from Real Clear Politics. The top candidates plans for the Supreme Court and other federal courts are described below.

  • Warren: Lukewarm on Court expansion (per Politico) but more focused on depoliticization of the Court (Good luck!)
  • Sanders: Supports modified term limits on the Supreme Court and rotating members that sit on the Court with judges from lower federal courts. He does not support adding seats to the Supreme Court.
    • He does not talk directly about the courts on his campaign page but he discusses issues related to the courts.
    • The dynamics of the rotating plan are still unclear as are constitutional issues surrounding its implementation.
  • Buttigieg: He has been the most vocal candidate on the Supreme Court detailing a plan to add six members to the Court where five would be affiliated with the Democrats, five with the Republicans, and five apolitical justices would be selected by the first ten. His plan is based on a forthcoming paper in Yale Law Journal from Dan Epps, an associate professor of law of Washington University in St. Louis, and Ganesh Sitaraman, a law professor at Vanderbilt Law School.
    • Unlike other candidates, Buttigieg actually discusses the Supreme Court as a major issue on his campaign page.
  • Harris: Like Warren, Harris has discussed the possibility of adding seats to the Supreme Court but has not come up with a coherent plan.
    • Like many of the other candidates, Harris does not discuss a plan for the courts on her campaign website but does take positions on key issues that will likely be litigated in the federal courts.
  • O’Rourke: He is another advocate for Supreme Court term limits.  O’Rourke also has a plan similar to Buttigieg’s that would expand the Court to 15 seats including ten seats split between nominees from the major parties with five apolitical seats.
    • While O’Rourke also talks about issues relating to the courts he does not discuss court reform as a direct issue on his campaign page.
  • Yang: Yang’s major reform plan related to the Supreme Court calls for 18 year term limits. He also lists this as a significant policy point on his campaign website.

Even with the major transformations to the federal courts under Trump, the courts do not appear a major campaign issue for many of the Democratic candidates. Those that have made the courts an issue have stay relatively silent about the feasibility of their plans and on what difference (if any) they anticipate such changes would make to the various courts’ decisions.

The Democrats relative silence on the courts has been quite attention grabbing in its own right. With Trump’s fervent focus on court appointments, and McConnell’s consistent maneuvering in this area, the lack of a response from the left is palpable (McConnell even responded to Democratic candidates’ plans to pack the courts). This imbalance of a focus on the courts has not gone unnoticed.  Zoe Tillman from Buzzfeed recently ran an article detailing the Democratic candidates’ lack of discussion about issues surrounding the federal courts. Ian Millhiser decried the absence of courts related questions from the Democratic debates. The major parties’ emphases on the courts do not seem anywhere near commensurate with one another and this raises an interesting question of why the Democrats do not seem equally engaged on this issue.  This point is underscored by the fact that federal judges are appointed for life and so Trump’s impact through the courts will likely not fade for decades.


On Twitter: @AdamSFeldman

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