Colorado’s first female attorney general, Gale Norton, joined 17 other former state AGs in support of a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to cap the number of Supreme Court justices. A letter in support of the amendment was sent as Pres. Joe Biden’s commission on Supreme Court reform held its final meeting.
The “Keep Nine” Amendment would specify that the U.S. Supreme Court consists of nine justices, barring any expansions of the court. An Oct. 13 letter written by former Attorney General of Virginia Stephen Rosenthal and former Attorney General of Tennessee Paul Summers asks the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court to consider and discuss the amendment. Norton joined other former AGs in urging the commission “to study and discuss the proposed ‘Keep Nine’ Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as an option for Supreme Court reform.”
First introduced to congress by Minnesota representative Collin Peterson in September 2020 in HJR 11, the amendment has simple language and a more complicated backstory. “The Supreme Court of the United States shall be composed of nine Justices,” the proposed amendment reads. In February, the amendment was introduced to the senate by Texas Senator Ted Cruz in SJR 9.
Supreme Court reform discussions reignited after the Trump administration. Former Pres. Donald Trump appointed three of the current Supreme Court justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — cementing a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court. Supreme Court reforms to lessen the power of this majority including justice term limits and adding more justices have gained steam in the past year and ignited debate.
“The Keep Nine Amendment would ensure that no future Congress and President, regardless of party, could manipulate the number of Justices on the Supreme Court for political gain,” write Summers and Rosenthal in the letter.
The letter coincides with the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court’s conclusion of a months-long study on potential reforms. Created by executive order in April, the 36-member commission of constitutional scholars, retired federal judiciary members and other experts is tasked with creating a report for the president about the Supreme Court’s history and an analysis of contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform. The five-chapter report will address the origins of the reform debate, membership and size of the court, length of justice service and turnover, the court’s role in the constitutional system and case selection and review. The commission meets for the last time today to deliberate on the report that it must deliver to Pres. Biden by Nov. 14.
“Political battles are a standard feature of the nomination and confirmation process as the Court’s membership changes through time. Changes in the White House and Senate led to changes in the Court,” said Norton in a statement to Law Week, “This routine evolution of the Court is vastly different from proposals to pack the Court with additional members.”
“The Keep Nine amendment proposal is intended to maintain the stability of the US constitutional structure. It rises above today’s political conflicts. It provides a nonpartisan focal point for discussing and emphasizing the importance of an independent Court,” Norton added.
Norton was Colorado’s first woman attorney general from 1991 to 1999 during former Gov. Roy Romer’s administration. From 2001-2006, Norton was the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, also the first woman to hold the position.
While she shattered the glass ceiling, Norton had controversial moments in her career.
She made controversial comments over state’s rights and the Civil War and the addition of a wheelchair ramp to Colorado’s statehouse. She was also investigated by former Inspector General Mary Kendall after Norton, while at the Department of the Interior, granted a large acreage of land to oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell then joined Shell’s staff nine months later. Currently, Norton operates regulatory consulting agency Norton Regulatory Strategies. Last year, the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame inducted Norton into the organization under the politics, government and military service category.
The other former AGs to support the “Keep Nine” Amendment are Richard Cullen, Jerry Kilgore, Tony Troy and Bill Broaddus from Virginia; Leonardo Rapadas from Guam; Richard Doran from Florida; Héctor Reichard and José Fuentes from Puerto Rico; Marc Dann from Ohio; Frank Bellotti from Massachusetts; Michael Lilly from Hawaii; Robert List from Nevada; Rufus Edmisten from North Carolina; and Dennis Vacco from New York.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Oct. 20 to include a statement from Norton regarding her support.