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The justices and judges appointed to seats on the federal courts are supposed to protect people from unconstitutional laws. But instead of protecting our rights, judges appointed by the previous president have given anti-abortion lawmakers the greenlight to pass laws attacking our rights. Bills attacking access to abortion, birth control, gender-affirming care, and other critical rights have moved through state legislatures and become law across the country since courts have refused to protect our fundamental rights. 

We deserve a future where our courts will protect our civil, human, and reproductive rights — no matter where we live. Court decisions affect our everyday lives, shaping how LGBTQ+ people can live our lives, who we can marry, who can carry guns, what kids learn in school, and the air that we breathe. That’s why it’s critical that we understand the judicial process.

How did we get here?

The courts are often the only place to take action to stop harmful laws after they are passed by lawmakers. The federal court system has three levels: district courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States, the final level of appeal in the federal system. Throughout the country there are 94 district courts, 13 circuit courts, and one Supreme Court. The U.S. Constitution gives the president the job of appointing Supreme Court justices, and federal circuit and district court judges. The president’s nominee must then be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

But President Trump, with help from Senator Mitch McConnell, confirmed more federal judges in a four year term than any president in recent history. Under the Trump administration, more than 230 judges who are mostly white and male were confirmed to lifetime positions — and there is no question that many are hostile to reproductive rights. 

As a result, abortion and other fundamental reproductive rights have been under escalated attacks by state lawmakers. And most recently, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court ruled to end the federal constitutional right to abortion. The Supreme Court took away the power of tens of millions in the United States to control their own bodies, lives, and personal medical decisions. 

What’s next?

Because of how the Trump administration reshaped the federal courts, the reality is that we could lose more rights. Birth control, marriage equality, environmental protections, freedom from gun violence — and so much more — are all at risk. 

In order to get our rights back, we need our leaders to appoint and confirm people to the courts who understand that they have a duty to protect our rights. President Biden has committed to nominating judges who understand this important duty. Also, he’s appointing judges that look like the rest of America – diverse in race, gender, culture, and experiences — which is essential to having the will of the people reflected in our laws. 

Of the current federal judges sitting on federal circuit and district courts and the Supreme Court, only 8% are women of color, and just 4% are Black women. As of July 2022, roughly 65% of Biden appointees have been people of color, and over 75% have been women. Before 2021, only eight Black women had EVER served on federal circuit courts. In his first two years, President Biden has nominated 12 Black women to serve on our federal circuit courts - more than all but two presidents, Obama and Clinton, did during their entire tenures - and over half have been confirmed as of July 2022. This includes Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was sworn in as the first Black woman and first public defender ever to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. We cannot lose sight of how meaningful this representation is for America — for so many Black women and girls, for our judiciary, and for this country. 

What can you do to help reclaim our courts?

As we work to rebuild our federal courts, we must spread awareness about why the courts matter and how they should protect us from laws that take away our ability to make decisions about our bodies and lives. Join one of our National Virtual Volunteer teams to teach your community about the importance of the courts and tell your own story: 

  • Community Mobilization Team: Learn how to lead a teach-in and mobilize your communities to ensure our demands reach every corner of the country.
  • Social Media Team: Take action online by sharing accurate info about abortion access.
  • Storytelling Team: Tell your story and help advocate for abortion access in the media. 

We won’t give up the fight for reproductive freedom — not now, not ever. Let’s work together to make sure that our courts represent our values and protect our rights.

Tags: Abortion, Courts, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court, Abortion restrictions, Roe v. Wade, abortion access, abortion bans