July 25, 2021

Opinion | How Democrats Should Fight For Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Seat

This brings us to the most important step: Democrats should commit to the structural reforms necessary to undo the damage Republicans have wrought. Republicans were able to block Judge Merrick Garland and install a conservative majority on the Supreme Court despite representing less than half of the population. The Senate overrepresents white conservatives, while minority voters are more underrepresented than at any time since 1870. A white conservative minority imposing its will on a diverse majority — in part through federal judges serving lifetime appointments — is a fundamentally unhealthy dynamic for our democracy.

If Democrats win the White House and the Senate in November, they can pass reforms to rebalance our democracy through simple majority votes. The only thing standing in the way will be the filibuster — a procedural mutation that was not a part of the original Senate and that has been manipulated in recent decades to transform the Senate from the framers’ vision of a majority-rule institution into one where most business requires 60 votes (or a “supermajority”) to pass. There are many good reasons to get rid of the filibuster, but Republicans jamming through a nominee should motivate any hesitant Democrats to commit to eliminating it if they take back power.

Without the filibuster, reforms can be passed by simple majority votes, as the framers intended. Democrats should commit to reforming the Supreme Court: They can add seats to the court; apply age or term limits; or pass any of a range of credible proposals. Congress has the prerogative to change the court, including its size, which it has done six times since the founding.

Democrats should also reform the Senate so it better represents the nation. They can start by inviting territories bound by federal law but lacking voting representation in Congress to become states. The District of Columbia has roughly a similar or greater population as Wyoming or North Dakota, while Puerto Rico has more people than 20 states. Both deserve to become states if they so choose.

Committing to these changes now will enable Democrats to move quickly if they take back power.

Some commentators have floated the idea of shutting down the government (funding runs out on Sept. 30). But this would backfire politically, and the Senate can confirm a nominee even if the government is shut down. It’s a bad idea.

This is a dark time for Democrats, but it has the potential to be clarifying. The Senate is awash in myths and misconceptions about norms and traditions, most of which were invented to serve narrow political interests. Republicans’ naked hypocrisy will reveal that much of what senators assure us is grand Senate tradition is just hardball politics.

Democrats’ options before the election may indeed be limited. But if they win, the only restraints will be their own ambition and will.

Adam Jentleson, a progressive strategist and former deputy chief of staff to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, is the author of the forthcoming book “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy.”

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