How to fix a broken Supreme Court

The Supreme Court derives its strength not from the use of force or political power, but from the trust of the people.


The Supreme Court is off the rails—and it’s only going to get worse unless we fight to reform it.

Trust levels and job approval ratings for the Court have hit historic lows due in large part to a growing number of ethics scandals.

Here are THREE key reforms Congress should enact to restore legitimacy to our nation’s highest court:

1) Establish a code of ethics

Every other federal judge has to sign on to a code of ethicsexcept for Supreme Court justices.

This makes no sense. Judges on the highest Court should be held to the highest ethical standards.

Congress should impose a code of ethics on Supreme Court justices. At the very least, any ethical code should ban justices from receiving personal gifts from political donors and anyone with business before the Court, clarify when justices with conflicts of interest should remove themselves from cases, prohibit justices from trading individual stocks, and establish a formal process for investigating misconduct.

2) Enact term limits

Article III of the Constitution says judges may “hold their office during good behavior,” but it does not explicitly give Supreme Court Justices lifetime tenure on the highest court—even though that’s become the norm.  

Term limits would prevent unelected justices from accumulating too much power over the course of their tenure—and would help defuse what has become an increasingly divisive confirmation process.

Congress should limit Supreme Court terms to 18-years, after which justices move to lower courts.

3) Expand the Court

The Constitution does not limit the Supreme Court to nine justices. In fact, Congress has changed the size of the Court seven times. It should do so again in order to remedy the extreme imbalance of today’s Supreme Court.    

Now some may decry this as “radical court packing.” That’s pure rubbish. The real court-packing occurred when Senate Republicans refused to even consider a Democratic nominee to the Supreme Court on the fake pretext that it was too close to the 2016 election, but then confirmed a Republican nominee just days before the 2020 election.

Rather than allow Republicans to continue exploiting the system, expanding the Supreme Court would actually UN-pack the court. This isn’t radical. It’s essential.

Now, I won’t sugar-coat this. Making these reforms happen won’t be easy. We’re up against big monied interests who will fight to keep their control of our nation’s most important Court.

But these key reforms have significant support from the American people, who have lost trust in the court.

The Supreme Court derives its strength not from the use of force or political power, but from the trust of the people. With neither the sword nor the purse, trust is all it has.

Read it on Robert Reich’s blog.


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Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.