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Fair Courts E-Lert: Justice Amy Coney Barrett Sworn in as Supreme Court Justice

This E-Lert highlights Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, presidential candidate Joe Biden’s pledge to form a bipartisan commission to study court reform if elected, and more.

Last Updated: October 30, 2020
Published: July 15, 2021

Justice Amy Coney Barrett Sworn in as Supreme Court Justice

On October 27, Amy Coney Barrett was formally sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court, giving conservatives a 6–3 majority on the Court.

Barrett was confirmed by the Republican-led Senate Monday evening in a 52–48 vote, with only one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, opposing her nomination. She was confirmed just eight days before November’s election, making her nomination one of the fastest in recent times. It was also “the first time in 151 years that a justice was confirmed without a single vote from the minority party,” according to the New York Times.

Barrett sat through over 20 hours of confirmation hearings, during which time she declined to say if she would recuse herself from any election-related cases involving President Trump. She also refused to say how she might rule on cases involving abortion rights or the Affordable Care Act.

In all, conservative advocacy groups reportedly spent $25 million on TV ads to support her confirmation, with progressive groups spending about half that amount opposing her confirmation.

Biden to Form Bipartisan Commission of Constitutional Scholars to Study Court Reform

On October 25, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced he would form a national bipartisan commission to study ways to reform the Supreme Court and federal judiciary.

During his appearance on 60 Minutes, Biden said he would convene a group of constitutional law scholars to offer recommendations after 180 days on how to reform the court system. When asked whether the commission would study court packing, Biden said “There’s a number of alternatives that … go well beyond packing. “The last thing we need to do is turn the Supreme Court into just a political football, whoever has the most votes gets whatever they want.”

Senate judiciary chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) dismissed Biden’s plan as “gibberish,” and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called Biden’s remarks “chilling.” Progressive advocacy groups criticized Biden’s plan as insufficient.

Prior to his announcement, Biden refused to say whether he supports adding seats to the Court. He also recently indicated that he is not open to term limits for future justices, saying “it’s a lifetime appointment.”

Adelsons spend $500,000 on Nevada Supreme Court Election

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam have contributed half a million dollars to Judge the Judges, a new super PAC working to elect conservative justices in Nevada.

Adelson, who is the twenty-eighth richest person in the world with a net worth of $32 billion, is the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Casino, and has financial interests in the decisions of Nevada’s courts. Adelson is best known for multi-million dollar contributions to federal elections, most recently a $75 million donation to Preserve America, a PAC supporting President Trump. 

Thus far, Judge the Judges has released a television advertisement attacking Ozzie Fumo, a state assembly member who is competing against district court judge Douglas Herndon to replace outgoing Justice Mark Gibbons. The ads claim that Fumo’s “lack of experience on the bench” makes him unqualified to sit on the state supreme court. 

According to a spokesperson from Judging the Judges, the PAC intends to be “an ongoing resource in future election cycles.”

Public Defenders are Mobilizing to Gain Seats on the Bench in New Orleans

Public defenders in New Orleans are mobilizing to flip the bench in their city as part of a criminal justice reform agenda.

The seven candidates, all of whom are former or current public defenders, include four running for criminal court judgeships and the others running for seats on the juvenile, municipal, and magistrate courts. If they all win, the cohort will occupy seven of the city’s 17 open benches. Public defenders, or others who have experience working with indigent clients, have little representation on courts across the country from the local level to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Calvin Johnson, former chief judge of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, said that if the group wins, “We could literally have the criminal justice system in New Orleans fundamentally changed.” One of the candidates, defense attorney Nandi Campbell, said that if elected, she will work to put fewer people behind bars and give shorter sentences.

The other candidates have also pledged to implement measures to combat the effects of mass incarceration, including eliminating cash bail and publishing data on racial disparities in court cases.