Welcome to the fourth installment of NPI at Netroots Nation 2022, a special limited podcast series recorded live from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. NPI staff journeyed to Steel City this past week to participate in the nation’s largest annual gathering of progressive activists.
As part of our conference coverage, we’re bringing you a series of conversations with key movement leaders and elected officials.
In this installment of NPI@NN, we’re honored to be joined by Sarah Lipton-Lubet, Executive Director of the Take Back The Court Foundation. Press play below to listen to the audio, or read the transcript below.
Read the transcript
(Note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity)
CAYA: Welcome to NPI at Netroots Nation 2022, a special limited podcast series from the Northwest Progressive Institute, recorded live from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m your host, Caya Berndt. We are glad to have you with us for this installment!
We are excited to be joined by executive director of the Take Back The Court Foundation, Sarah Lipton-Lubet! How are you doing today?
SARAH: Hi, it’s so great to be here! Thanks for talking with me.
CAYA: Thank you for joining us! So, for those of our listeners who are not familiar with your organization, tell us about who you are and what you do.
SARAH: So, Take Back The Court was founded four years ago, with the sole, laser-focus of Supreme Court expansion. That’s adding four justices to the Supreme Court to stop the crisis that we have right now with the Court, where it has been overtaken by conservative forces that are dead set on imposing a right wing agenda on the country against our will.
CAYA: And how did you get involved in that work? What were some of the moments that led you into this type of work?
SARAH: I love to talk about that because I’ve been a social justice advocate in public interest work for about twenty years.… my entire career. And I have never felt more hopeful than when I was able to join the team at Take Back The Court, so we can fix the Supreme Court. Never felt more hopeful than when I was able to start working on Supreme Court expansion at Take Back The Court, never felt more energized.
I’ve come out of the reproductive rights movement. I’ve been in abortion rights advocacy for almost my entire career, and I remember the exact moment, actually, that I decided that I wanted to do this work on Supreme Court reform, and on Supreme Court expansion in particular. It was just over a year ago, last May, when the Supreme Court announced that it would be hearing the Dobbs case, the Mississippi abortion case that it decided recently, in which it overturned Roe v. Wade. But at the time, back in May of 2021, we were all, honestly, like really stunned, that the Court decided to take the case.
They had been sitting on it for months and months and months… something like, I don’t know, nine months, something like that? And the conventional wisdom in the repro community was, they’re not gonna take this case. They’re not gonna take this case. They’re gonna take some other cases. They’re gonna do some really, really rotten things, but it’s gonna be more insidious. It’s gonna be on a slower pace, on a longer timeline. You know, more of that kind of chipping away of abortion rights that we’ve seen for decades now.
And so, when I woke up that morning and I was living out West at the time… it was very early in the morning, I woke up to my phone buzzing off the hook, text after text. “Did you see what happened? You see what they did?” And I was really floored. That it was gonna happen this quickly, that the right wing on the Court felt so empowered, so emboldened, that it was gonna decide to take this case, to address the fundamental rights in Roe, when it hadn’t even been asked by the litigants. I don’t wanna get too, like, lawyery, wonky.…
CAYA: I mean, if you want to!
SARAH: I mean, sometimes I want to, but not right now! But the way things usually work is, there’s something called “question presented,” right? So the litigants in a case, when they ask the Supreme Court to take it, they have to say: “What is at stake? Here’s the question we want the Supreme Court to answer.” And it wasn’t even in there! It wasn’t even in there.
But the Court reached out and said, You know what? We’ve got six right wing justices now. We’ve got Kavanaugh. We’ve got Amy Coney-Barrett. And we wanna get rid of Roe, so we’re just gonna do it.
So, that day, I ran around, I did all the usual advocacy things I did at the time, you know, all of which were important… but at the end of the day, I just sat there and I thought, we are dealing with a different animal right now.
We are dealing with a court that feels so emboldened, and so empowered to enact this right wing agenda that we’ve gotta do something different. We can’t just do what we’ve always been doing.
And let me be clear, all of the work that happens in the abortion rights advocacy movement is so important, it is so critical. I couldn’t possibly support it more.
But it became clear to me then that part of my fight for abortion rights, for reproductive rights, had to be… to take the Supreme Court head on and stop treating it like it’s something untouchable. Like it’s this kind of deity that exists outside of time and space, and we mere mortals couldn’t possibly have anything to say about it. No, it’s a part of our government. It’s a part of our democracy.
It’s an institution, actually, the size of which has been changed seven times before in our history, and we have to stop treating it like it’s untouchable! That was kind of the “aha!” moment about this issue, and six weeks later I was lucky enough to join the team at Take Back the Court… and I’ve never been happier.
CAYA: I’m really glad to hear that. And I love that story, because I love all of those moments that lead you up to that final moment where it’s like, you see the solution and it feels so, so obvious and clear to you.
Can you talk about what exactly the Take Back the Court foundation is advocating for? I think you mentioned four justices – why the four?
SARAH: That’s a great question. So, the way that our court system is set up, we have the Supreme Court, we have the Courts of Appeals – also called the circuit courts – and then we have district courts, like the trial court, right. In this country, there are thirteen circuit courts, thirteen courts of appeal.
The last time the size of the Supreme Court was changed was when there were nine circuit courts. And so the number used to match, right? The number of seats in the Supreme Court with the number of circuit courts.
Well, the last time that was set, there was something like – I don’t have my notes in front of me, so I’m gonna make up this number – there’s something like thirty-eight million people in the country. Now, there’s something three hundred plus million people in the country. The country’s changed dramatically.
It’s grown dramatically. The nature of our democracy has changed to try at least to be a true, multiracial democracy. Expanding the Court fits in with all of that, with growing the number of seats, of justices, so that it is once again consistent with the number of circuit courts, adding justices so that the court can be more reflective of America and the people that it’s supposed to serve, and, most importantly, taking power away from the current right wing majority that is set on undermining our democracy in order to give themselves more power.
And that’s so important. There are a million reasons why court reform is important. But if we don’t take away power from the folks on the Court right now, who are actively undermining our democracy, we’re not gonna have one left. That’s why this work is so critical, and so urgent.
CAYA: I’ve heard some concerns that expanding the Supreme Court is only a Band-Aid solution to a greater Republican strategy of trying to pack the Supreme Court, and they say, well, if we just move it up to twelve [or thirteen] justices, what’s to stop them from throwing more conservative justices into those slots? How do you respond to arguments like that?
SARAH: Look, Republicans have already changed the size of the Supreme Court. Right? They shrunk it to eight when they blockaded President Obama from even having a hearing on Merrick Garland. And they did that without passing proper legislation, which is what we’re trying to do with court expansion. I think it’s not unreasonable to ask what might Republicans do in the future, but Republicans are always going to try to enact power grabs when they can. We’ve seen that. That’s just a fact of life. So I’m less concerned with what they might do in the future, than what we can do right now in order to fix the harm that they’ve caused.
Right now, there are millions of people in this country who cannot seek abortion care in the states where they live. Right now, we have an epidemic of gun violence that the Supreme Court has only made worse.
Right now, we have a climate crisis that the Court, in its decisions this term, has tried to prevent the government from taking action to correct. There are so many crises on hand right now that this Court has created, and we have a responsibility to act to try to fix that harm, and what needs to be done.
CAYA: And what needs to be done? Expanding the Supreme Court, there’s plenty of pessimism around that, saying that’s something that’s never going to fly. Like, “Biden’s never going to pass it,” or “it’s never going to pass the Senate.” What needs to be done in order to move such a big piece of legislation like that forward? And what is your organization doing to move that forward?
SARAH: I think the most important thing we can do, like all of us together, is keep talking about it. It may be something that not a lot of people have heard of. When Take Back the Court was founded four years ago, nobody was talking about Supreme Court expansion. Nobody was thinking about Supreme Court expansion. We were the first ones to step out there and say, look, this is something that we can do to actually fix this crisis.
It’s something that’s been done before, and now is the time to take bold steps, and move that forward again. In just four years, we’ve gone from zero to more than 130 organizations in support of Supreme Court expansion!
With that support growing every day, we’ve gone from zero to a bill in Congress that now has more than sixty co-sponsors across the House and Senate. So in social justice time, we’re moving warp speed.
We need to move faster, because the crisis is so urgent.
And so I would say for your listeners, if it’s something they’re interested in, if there’s something that they want to get involved with, just honestly talking to your friends about it, explaining this is a thing that’s actually possible that we can do… and we’ve found, once you break through that initial education barrier, people really start to come to understand, very quickly, how important of a policy change it is, and get on board.
CAYA: Thank you very much for that. So, just to wrap up our conversation, a couple more questions for you: what are some resources and websites that our listeners can visit, or any books that they can check out if they want to learn more about the organization, and about Supreme Court expansion?
SARAH: Thank you so much. So absolutely, please visit takebackthecourtfoundation.org. We have probably as many resources as you could possibly want, perhaps more. We like to write a lot! You can learn about the history of court expansion, the fight for court expansion, and the way that court expansion is really integral to all sorts of progressive fights and movements.
If you care about abortion rights, you need to care about court expansion. If you care about climate justice, court expansion is gonna be really pivotal to being able to have progressive legislation that is not struck down by the Supreme Court.
If you care about voting rights, if you care about gun violence prevention, immigration rights – immigrants’ rights, rather – we have resources that discuss all of those. And if there’s a topic or a resource that you don’t see, reach out! Let us know. I’m sure it’s something we might be happy to work on.
CAYA: Thank you very much. One final question for you, and this is something I ask everybody to wrap up the interview… this has been a really hard couple of years. And this year, the past couple of months since Dobbs, has been especially punishing. With everything going on, what are some of the things that are bringing you joy right now? They can be big or small.
SARAH: It has been a really, really hard year, and a hard few months, absolutely, Year, really, since the court allowed Texas to ban abortion in the second most populous state in the country while Roe still stood, and that was a year ago. So we’ve really been in this. I have to say, what brings me joy is doing this work, and bringing others into this movement to make it stronger, and to grow it.
And also it’s nice to go hiking sometimes.
CAYA: Oh yeah. Absolutely! And it’s looks like there’s really good hiking around this area too. So it’s a good move, right?
Thank you very much for joining us, Sarah.
SARAH: Thanks so much for having me.
CAYA: And for our listeners at home, this has been our conversation with Sarah Lipton-Lubet! Look forward to our other installments in our NPI at Netroots series. I will drop the information for her organization, Take Back the Court Foundation, in our post in the Cascadia Advocate.
So, until next time, for NPI, I’m Caya Berndt.