News Release

The Supreme Court and Working People


A new report from the People’s Parity Project, “Protecting Workers’ Rights and Democracy from the Courts: A Practical Guide to Court Reform,” authored by labor lawyer Jenny Hunter, lays out the history of the Supreme Court’s negative impacts on working people. The report contends that U.S. federal courts pose an “urgent threat to economic justice and worker power.” 

The report advocates a number of possible reforms

  • Court expansion: Adding justices to the Supreme Court.
  • Jurisdiction stripping: Removing courts’ ability to hear challenges to a specific law or regulation, or more broadly to all federal laws and regulations. 
  • Jurisdiction channeling: Designating a specific court, agency, or other body to hear specific types of cases.
  • Supermajority requirements: A rule that a court can only strike down a law or regulation on constitutional grounds if a supermajority, or all, of the court’s members agree.
  • Fast-track congressional fixes to statutory interpretation decisions: An efficient process for Congress to overrule a court decision misinterpreting a federal law or regulation.
  • Other complementary reforms: Ethics reform, shadow docket reform, lower court expansion, term limits, and laws to correct antidemocratic judicial doctrines. These would complement other reforms, and would be helpful, but not alone sufficient, in addressing the problems of the federal courts.

    Coleman is the executive director of the People’s Parity Project, a network of law students and attorneys organizing for a democratized legal system.

Coleman told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “This report showcases the fact that there is no one single problem with the courts, so there is no one single solution. These various reforms can complement one another and play off one another. Collectively, they [can] start to address the problem of the courts having too much power and wielding that power to conservative ends.”

The People’s Parity Project is enthusiastic about “good government reforms like expanding the courts, but also [reforms like] jurisdiction channeling and stripping,” which reduce the courts’ authority, Coleman said. “These reforms get less attention than [court] expansion or term limits, and they may seem ambitious––but they are more achievable than they look on first blush. There are [reforms] that members of Congress or advocacy groups can push for right now, which could be written into law next Congress to start to take power back from the court. 

“Some of the proposed reforms, like term limits or court expansion, are standalone legislation that would need to get through Congress on their own, which is more challenging. But [reforms like] jurisdiction stripping and channeling can be inserted into substantive legislation that is already making its way through halls of Congress… Even in this Congress, legislation does get passed and we get things through.” These reforms can be passed “while fighting for a longer-term vision.

“The idea of reforming the courts or taking back power [from them] isn’t new. It’s been done consistently since the 1800s, and in many instances, has been upheld as constitutional. The conversation has a long history and the efficacy and constitutionality are grounded in [that] history. In the 20th century, these were reforms that were part and parcel of the conversation about how to help working people. The project of questioning the power of the courts and giving it back to the people can sound grand and ambitious, but we’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re looking at the long history of progressive, pro-worker organizing to understand what tools have long been in the toolbox to take power back from the courts––and how we might apply those tools to our current crisis moment. 

“There are some other reforms that haven’t been done in federal courts before, but have been proposed––the requirement, for instance, that the Supreme Court have a supermajority to declare legislation unconstitutional. That’s been proposed over 60 times in the last 200 years. Other countries do it for their courts. North Dakota, Nebraska, and Ohio do it for their state courts. Even when the reform [hasn’t] been applied to the U.S. Supreme Court, we have evidence of it being considered and deemed legal throughout history. 

“Why isn’t [court reform] an economic justice issue? We talk about court reform as a standalone issue or a democracy issue––and it is, of course. But it’s also a bread and butter, economic justice, workers’ rights issue. The group that has been consistently attacked––by liberal justices, conservative justice, by judges across the federal judiciary––is workers. The court serves to bolster corporate power at every turn. We just had an 8-1 anti-worker decision” when the Supreme Court sided with Starbucks in early June.