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Just Majority bus tour for Supreme Court reform makes stop in New York City

The Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, and other elected officials were in Harlem to blast the Supreme Court for its partisan rulings and ethics issues.

By Will Fritz - June 20, 2023
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Al Sharpton speaking alongside Jumaane Williams
The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks on June 17 at the National Action Network’s House of Justice in Harlem, New York City, during a press conference set up as part of progressive coalition Just Majority’s push to reform the Supreme Court. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is seated to Sharpton’s left. Photo: Will Fritz

Elected officials and progressive advocates were in New York City on Saturday to call for changes to the U.S. Supreme Court on the 21st stop of the Just Majority court reform campaign.

At the National Action Network’s House of Justice in Harlem, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) led a press conference criticizing the current court’s legitimacy and ethical issues and saying the court should be reformed and expanded.

Just Majority is a coalition of more than two dozen progressive groups seeking to “combat partisan rulings and ethics scandals” on the Supreme Court, according to a press release. The group has been touring the country by bus since April, making stops in more than a dozen states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, California, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina..

Sharpton and Espaillat were joined by Democratic New York state Assembly Member Latrice Walker and state Sen. Jessica Ramos as well as New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. They were also joined by Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood and co-chair of American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC. (Disclosure: The American Independent Foundation is a partner organization of American Bridge.) 

Sharpton said that the effort to reform the court is not partisan and that increasing the number of justices would not be a historical anomaly.

“In light of the court’s clear political and partisan leanings, the efforts is not partisan on our part. The efforts is to protect the human and civil rights of American citizens,” Sharpton told a packed room. “It is clear that at different times in American history, that there was adjustments to those numbers in the court. So for those that say you have to keep nine in the court, that is not true.”

The court as currently constituted has problems, Sharpton said.

“A literal third of the court, three of the nine members of the court, a third of the court was chosen by the most bigoted president in American history, Donald Trump,” Sharpton said.

Espaillat said many Americans simply don’t trust the court, and it’s time to try to fix that, .

“The Supreme Court today has the lowest approval rating in recorded history,” he said. “Three out of five Americans don’t feel that the court is doing the right thing. They disapprove of the Supreme Court. This has been fueled by a series of scandals headed by Clarence Thomas and the others that have chosen the Supreme Court as a way to get preferential treatment, gifts, travel, lobsters, other kinds of meals. And, of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Just Majority’s press conference in Harlem came just a week before the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s announcement on June 24, 2022, of its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade’s 49-year-old affirmation of a constitutional right to abortion.

“The Supreme Court is no longer a source of justice in the United States of America,” Richards said. “Women have had their most fundamental rights stripped away by the Supreme Court. And frankly, we are living in fear of just what may be next.”

The court, in its present state, is no longer interested in protecting or preserving the rights of all Americans, Williams said.

“The Supreme Court, although it has taken time to do things, has been the one place that at least tried to push this country to do indeed what it says it does,” Williams said. “The country has tried to say at various times that it is equal, it is about equality, it is about equity, it is about everyone having an opportunity. But that has not been the case. And when people were aggrieved, when people were struggling with those issues, they said, ‘Let’s go to the Supreme Court,’ and the Supreme Court has at least began to push toward equity, push toward equality, push toward these things. And now we’ve lost that ability. We now have lost it through extreme conservative thought and corruption in the Supreme Court. So where are people supposed to go to get reprieve when they need it?”

Walker said that it is important to establish better ethical standards on the high court and that the United States should not have to be governed by a court system that sees wealthy donors bankroll justices who rule on cases they have interests in — as conservative billionaire Harlan Crow has done for Justice Clarence Thomas for years.

“We will continue to push for a court with ethics, and who upholds the indications of ethics so that it will always be a shield for the rights of individuals in the country and as well as in the state of New York, because having a bench without accountability is like not having a bench at all,” Walker said. “The allegations that are swirling around Justice Thomas right now have raised some very important questions about conduct, and we need to have a binding code of conduct. 

“If federal judges and lower-level judges are bound by a code of ethics,” Walker asked, then why aren’t “men and women who sit on the highest court of the land being held to the very same standards that we all are?”

Walker added: “Right now the American public has very little faith in the integrity of the court, according to many polls. We need to have confidence that billionaire mega-donors like Harlan Crow are not providing lavish trips to Justice Thomas for the sole purpose of influencing the court.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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