Expand The Court: Save Our Democracy" Press Conference Live From The U.S. Capitol
Sarah Lipton-Lubet speaks at a media event on July 18th, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Take Back the Court Action Fund)

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.

For lis­ten­ers who are inter­est­ed in learn­ing more, you can vis­it the web­site for Take Back the Court Foun­da­tion by fol­low­ing this link

About the author

Caya is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor based out of Spokane, Washington, writing about Lilac City politics, the Evergreen State's 5th Congressional District, and related politics. She previously hosted the inaugural episodes of NPI's PNWcurrents podcast. She works at the Unemployment Law Project and is a graduate of Central Washington University, with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences. Caya also has a minor from CWU in law and justice.

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