May 14, 2023 - Health

Scoop: Planned Parenthood calls for major judicial reform

Picture of a hand holding a pink sign that says "I stand with Planned Parenthood" in an abortion rights protest happening in front of the U.S. Supreme Court

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Planned Parenthood is calling for the major reform of the federal judiciary less than a year after the fall of Roe v. Wade, including expanding the Supreme Court and adding term limits.

Driving the news: The organization is also demanding an end to single-judge divisions, such as the Amarillo division in the Northern Texas District Court, where its sole judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, issued a ruling halting the Food and Drug Administration's approval of a widely used abortion pill.

  • Single-judge divisions can lead to "court-shopping," in which plaintiffs seek out a venue where the lone district court judge is known to be sympathetic to their claims.

Don't forget: Kacsmaryk's ruling has been temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court, but the 5th Circuit Court if Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Wednesday.

  • The three-judge panel that will hear the case is comprised of two Trump appointees and one Bush appointee, all of which have an anti-abortion history.

The big picture: The overturning of Roe, as well as reports around Justice Clarence Thomas' alleged ties to a GOP megadonor, have prompted some Democrats in Congress to push for justice term limits and a code of conduct for the highest bench.

  • The Supreme Court is the only court in the federal judiciary that does not have a formal code of ethics.

State of play: Planned Parenthood for the first time is calling for Congress to add seats and impose term limits for the justices, as well as create ethics and transparency requirements.

  • Justices are not "forced to follow a binding code of conduct," and they argue that as a result, "there are no clear consequences for most unethical behavior," Planned Parenthood argues.
  • They're also urging Congress to increase the number of lower court seats to keep up with the growing U.S. population and caseload.
  • "Ongoing threats to reproductive freedom, civil rights, and our democratic systems and institutional norms" prompted the organization to issue the calls now, per a press release.

Between the lines: Planned Parenthood has been active in litigation challenging state abortion bans and other women's health matters like the federal Title X family planning program.

What they're saying: “[T]he courts have been used as a vehicle to advance a dangerous agenda against abortion rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and so much more," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

  • Planned Parenthood "understands that reforms are integral to building the public’s trust that the courts can and will function to uphold hard-won freedoms and advance justice for future generations," Johnson added.
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