An Interview With Tamara Brummer: How Court Reform Can Protect Voting Rights

Last Friday, we sat down with Tamara Brummer, the Senior Advisor for Engagement and Outreach at Demand Justice. Tamara and all the folks at Demand Justice are leading the fight to make the Supreme Court more just, democratic, and representative of our country as a whole. Here’s what Tamara had to say:

Let’s start with the basics. What does your organization Demand Justice do? 

Demand Justice is an organization that was founded in response to the long history of conservatives taking control of our federal judiciary. Our work focuses on engaging with everyday people to reform our federal courts so that they actually represent the people, and not just the corporate, wealthy elite.

What is your role at Demand Justice?

I’m the Senior Advisor for National Outreach and Engagement. My responsibility is to talk to as many people as I can and build a coalition with partners across movements and issues. We want to build an understanding among progressives that court reform is an essential part of the fight for voting rights.

When you talk to people and groups about why we need to reform the Supreme Court, where do you start?

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, over four years, gave over 200 federal judges lifetime appointments. They stole Supreme Court seats from the American people and put Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh on the bench. No matter the work that we do today to pass progressive legislation, we’re going to run up against this deeply conservative court. Do you think that a judge appointed by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell will uphold progressive legislation, like a voting rights bill, if it’s challenged in court? Oh, no. We need to think about the fight to rebalance the Supreme Court as a key part of our strategy for powering our progressive movement, because it is.

Speaking of voting rights, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t today (June 25th), the anniversary of that 2013 decision Shelby County

Absolutely, today is the anniversary. By getting rid of preclearance, the Supreme Court gave states the green light to enact racist voting restrictions. The Court basically said: “Well, now you have a Black president, we don’t have to worry about racism at the ballot box.” And then Georgia and other states that were previously under the jurisdiction of the Voting Rights Act said: “Hold my beer.”

This ruling meant that these states with a history of withholding the right to vote from Black folks are no longer beholden to federal oversight. Since the ruling, we’ve seen more legislation that makes it harder and harder for Black, Brown, and poor people to vote in this country.

So how does the conservative shift of the Supreme Court impact voting rights overall?

That’s a really good question. On a basic level, Republicans are never about expanding democracy. They’re always about constricting it. If you really cared about the American people, you would allow people to vote automatically, always, no questions asked. Whether it’s gerrymandering districts or purging voters because they didn’t vote in the last election, we consistently see conservatives try to make it harder for people to cast a ballot.

How can we fight back? 

The most immediate solution is adding four seats to the Supreme Court. We really need to elevate the push to add four seats.  The Judiciary Act, which would add four justices, has been introduced in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. We need to be building support for this legislation among democrats in Congress, and we need more cosponsors.

I believe that we’re going to win the progressive reforms we deserve. But we need to make sure that the courts uphold them, and they’ve rigged it to a point that we know we’re not going to get a fair shot.

One last question: What gets you fired up about working on court reform?

I know we’re right! I know we’re doing the right thing. It’s the necessary thing to do.

You know what makes me hopeful? As a country, we’ve been here before y’all. I’m a cisgender Black woman. People who look like me, who came before me, fought for their rights too. We’re here to push our country forward.

So well said. Thanks for your time, Tamara!