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Rep. Welch says he's open to considering U.S. Supreme Court reform

AP-Supreme-Court-20150324.jpg
Susan Walsh
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AP File

Congressman Peter Welch says the U.S. Supreme Court is "working on behalf of an extreme right-wing agenda" following several recent decisions.

He says he's now willing to consider several reform measures, including expanding the size of the court and imposing term limits for justices.

"This is a really extreme activist agenda by this court that is very troubling, and the bottom line here too is that it's extraordinarily divisive for our country — our democracy is under immense stress right now," Welch said in an interview with Vermont Public.

Various polls show declining public approval for the Supreme Court. In a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 58% of respondents said they have not very much or no confidence at all in the court, compared to 39% saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the Supreme Court — a new low.

FILE - Rep. Pete Welch, D-Vt., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Welch won both the Democratic and Republican nominations in August 2016 for re-election that year to a sixth term.
Lauren Victoria Burke
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AP
Rep. Peter Welch

Still, a majority of respondents also opposed expanding the number of justices on the court.

Welch says he's also been "extremely resistant" to reform the court, historically. But he says he's been swayed by recent decisions ending abortion as a constitutional right, striking down a New York state gun control law and limiting the power of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He says the court has superseded other branches of government — particularly the legislative branch — and can no longer be considered a nonpartisan institution.

"We have a radical group of justices. Many of them are younger people, and they’re going to be there for generations. They’ve made it clear through these three decisions they’re willing to be radical," he said.
Other Democratic lawmakers have echoed Welch's calls for court reform.

In a statement released this week, Washington state Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called to expand the court and institute new ethics rules. She wrote that the court just finished "one of the most consequential and destructive terms in recent decades."

"We have a situation that if it's not addressed, I think continues to get more dangerous and erode more respect for the court."
Rep. Peter Welch

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden called the court "out of control" in a speech Friday. Though Biden signed an executive order protecting access to reproductive health rights, Reuters reports the White House remains unwilling to support major changes to the court.

Welch says Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization shows "everything's on the table" under the current court composition, including the potential reversal of contraception and same-sex marriage rights.

"We have a situation that if it's not addressed, I think continues to get more dangerous and erode more respect for the court," he said.

Welch says he'll be "very active" in taking steps to restore "proper balance" to the court.

The congressman is currently running for the seat of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who's retiring after this term. Welch is the presumptive favorite in the Democratic primary, which also includes Warren physician Niki Thran and Brattleboro activist Isaac Evans-Frantz.

Have questions, comments, or concerns? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Bob Kinzel:

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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