Remember when Mitch McConnell twice invoked entirely made-up rules to politically shape the court’s membership? Expanding the court will make it more legitimate, not less
William Brennan, the great US supreme court justice, liked to greet his incoming law clerks with a bracingly simple definition of constitutional doctrine: five votes. “You can’t do anything around here,” Brennan would say, wiggling the fingers of his hand, “without five votes.”
Underscoring the truth of Brennan’s hardboiled definition was the court’s 5-4 ruling this week (with Chief Justice John Roberts in dissent alongside his three liberal colleagues) to let stand a Texas law that turns ordinary citizens into de facto bounty hunters empowered to sue anyone who performs or “aids and abets” an abortion on a woman past her sixth week of pregnancy. True, the single-paragraph unsigned majority opinion emphasized that in letting the Texas law take effect the court was not ruling on the statute’s ultimate constitutionality.