President Obama Should Consider Increasing Number of Supreme Court Justices

06/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States represents another milestone in the historic ascendancy of President Barack Obama. If confirmed, she will be the first person of Puerto Rican, Hispanic heritage to don the hallowed robes of the U.S. most august court.

This is significant because the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court affect the inhabitants and citizens of the United States in virtually every aspect of life from marriage, to integration, to abortion rights. But arguably, in some cases, the Court has taken a while to catch up to the zeitgeist of the age. This is because the Court has traditionally been limited to a sort of patriarchal group of white men perched on a hill deciding the lives of Americans.

Until 1980, for example, the Court had never had a woman Justice. Upon the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed the loneliness in decision making in being the only woman on the court. Ginsberg noted, during a recent case involving a 13-year-old girl who was strip searched by Arizona school officials looking for drugs, that her male counterparts could not understand the humiliation to a 13-year-old girl of being stripped searched: "They have never been a 13-year-old girl," Ginsburg said. "It's a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn't think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood."

Her statement is symbolic of the change needed to the Court. To achieve this change, President Obama should consider asking Congress to increase the number of members of the Supreme Court. This is not unprecedented in Supreme Court history. A study of the Court shows that it has changed the number of its members at least six times before determining in 1869 the number to be nine members.

In another historic era that has been compared to today, the 1930s, President Franklin D Roosevelt considered increasing the number of Supreme Court Justices. But Roosevelt failed in his attempt at what is referred to as "court packing." His goal was to increase the number of his party on the Court in order to push through his historic New Deal legislation. But President Obama is in a different position and this era is different in one important respect to the 1930s: the changing demographic of America, which makes the time seem right to increase the number on the Court. It is indisputable that the demographics of America are changing and that there are more minority groups represented in this country. Therefore, having a virtually all white male Supreme Court is no longer viable. Increasing the number of Justices on the Supreme Court would permit representation of more demographic groups such as Asian people, Hispanic, and African American. This is undoubtedly the point nominee Judge Sotomayor was making in her now controversial comment as to how her Puerto Rican background would aid her in deciding cases. Varied input is crucial to a representative democracy and in all phases of government.