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The federal courts should protect everyone’s dignity and equality. But as we have seen time and again, that sadly isn’t always the case.

Many of our courts are actively stripping people of their rights

We need major changes to our culture and our democratic institutions, including our courts. We need judges who are committed to fairness and equality and to protecting our democracy, our rights, and the future of our country. We need federal court reform to establish and entrench abortion rights, bolster hard-won but weakened civil rights, and guard other rights under attack.

Court Reform Is Essential for Advancing Freedom and Justice

The federal courts have often failed people in the U.S. — with the consequences falling hardest on people of color, indigenous people, queer and trans people, and other communities that have historically been marginalized —  but nonetheless are a core institution in our democratic system. They have the power and the responsibility to protect everyone’s dignity and equality — and are often the Iast, best defense of our freedoms. They issued historic decisions like Brown v. Board of Education, which began the process of dismantling state-enforced racial segregation. They established Miranda rights. They overturned unjust laws and upheld cherished rights — including, for nearly a half-century beginning in 1973, the right to abortion.

In recent years, however, anti-abortion rights politicians and their allies put judges who are sympathetic to their beliefs in positions of power. They are using the courts to undermine our hard-won freedoms and our power to control our own bodies, lives, and futures. We watched last year as the Supreme Court — where one in three justices was appointed by anti-abortion former president Donald Trump — overturned Roe v. Wade, unleashing a wave of state abortion bans. 

Politicians and organizations who seek to rob us of control over our bodies and futures are bringing cases before like-minded judges — dealing with everything from contraception and birth control to environmental protections to LGBTQ+ equality —  and are turning the federal courts into battering rams against our freedoms. Thanks to a lack of ethics and transparency requirements at the Supreme Court, outside groups and individuals can also influence its justices in ways that we may never learn about.

Structural, systemic, and meaningful court reform is the only way to ensure that federal courts uphold the law and advance justice and equality. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund are proud to join our partners who have led this work for decades.

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What We Mean by ‘Court Reform’

If we are going to teach our children that the courts are an effective guardian of our rights, we have to ensure they live up to that vision. We need to build a federal court system, including a Supreme Court, that will uphold our freedoms and defend equality. We need to fight for courts that are truly just.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund position on federal court reform includes:

Expand the Number of Justices on the Supreme Court and Put Term Limits in Place for Justices

The Supreme Court has stayed the same size for 150 years; meanwhile, the U.S. has become much more diverse. 

We need courts that reflect this diversity.

  • The population has grown by more than 10 times in the meantime, and the volume of cases brought before the federal judiciary has significantly increased.

  • Supreme Court justices are also now serving significantly longer terms than their predecessors — often 30 or more years on the bench.


Impose Ethics and Transparency Requirements for Supreme Court Justices

Supreme Court justices aren’t forced to follow a binding code of conduct. 
  • Justices aren’t prevented from owning and trading stocks, have poorly defined rules around accepting gifts, and there are no clear consequences for most unethical behavior. 

  • This makes it possible for outside groups and people to influence justices in ways that we know nothing about.


Add Seats For Additional Judges on Lower Courts

The federal judiciary is increasingly overburdened — and there aren’t enough judges to keep up with the growing U.S. population and caseloads. 
  • In 2021, 419,032 cases were filed in federal district courts and 44,546 were filed in the U.S. courts of appeals. 

  • It’s been more than 30 years since Congress last comprehensively expanded the number of lower court seats — the longest period of time between expansions in the history of district courts and U.S. courts of appeals.


Prevent Single-Judge Divisions — Which Allow for Interest Groups to Pick and Choose Where to File Cases

No group should be able to guarantee that a favorable judge decides their case.
  • Interest groups can shop for judges who align with their views — often judges they’ve helped get confirmed — and then deliberately send them cases, knowing they will decide against reproductive freedom, gender equity, LGBTQ+ liberation, access to health care, and civil liberties.


We Are Committed to This Fight 

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund are committed to working toward bold changes to our federal courts and fighting for real justice for all people. Judges must work to protect our rights and freedoms, not take them away.

“Planned Parenthood refuses to accept that our courts can only exist as they do now, and understands that reforms are integral to building the public’s trust that the courts can and will function to uphold hard-won freedoms and advance justice for future generations. [Our] expanded position is a continuation of our commitment to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live, has the freedom to make their own decisions about their own bodies, lives, and futures.” 

– Alexis McGill Johnson
President, Planned Parenthood Action Fund

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Tags: Federal Courts, Federal Judges, Court Reform

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