Mondaire Jones Is Back—Precisely When Democrats Need Him

Mondaire Jones Is Back—Precisely When Democrats Need Him

Mondaire Jones Is Back—Precisely When Democrats Need Him

One of the most progressive members of the 117th Congress is ready to return and fight for an expanded Supreme Court.


After a week that saw the United States Supreme Court reject precedents and popular sentiment in order to impose an extreme agenda on everything from campus diversity to student loan debt forgiveness to discrimination against same-sex couples, Americans are firmly focused on the threat posed by the high court’s lopsided right-wing majority. There’s a desperation for ideas about how to respond to a judicial crisis that will only get worse if Democrats fail to act decisively.

Luckily, a progressive Democrat who has a clear sense of what to do is seeking to return to Congress. Former US representative Mondaire Jones announced Wednesday that he’s running again for a New York House seat representing much of the Hudson Valley region he previously served. That’s significant for his former constituents. What’s significant for the whole country is the fact that he’s prepared to take up the leadership role he played from 2021 until 2023, when he agilely challenged the systems that stand in the way of economic, social, and racial justice. As part of that role, Jones, a Harvard Law School graduate who worked in the US Department of Justice during Barack Obama’s presidency, focused particular attention on addressing the imbalance on the Supreme Court.

His solution is to expand the court to include more progressive justices—an argument that has been made before, going back to the days when President Abraham Lincoln and his radical Republican allies expanded the high court to include 10 members. More and more Democrats are coming to recognize that this is the only realistic response to a court that’s currently packed with right-wing judicial activists.

But Jones has been on the case for years. As one of the youngest members of the 117th Congress, and as a new member of the House Judiciary Committee, Jones ripped into the Supreme Court as “hostile to democracy itself,” declaring, “To restore power to the people, we must expand the Supreme Court.”

Jones was not the only supporter of the Judiciary Act of 2021, a bill seeking to expand the court by adding four seats, and of related proposals to end the Senate filibuster so that President Biden could appoint progressive justices to the new positions. But in the first months of Joe Biden’s presidency, he was the most outspoken and unrelenting advocate for the change—raising the issue regularly on Capitol Hill, on social media, and in dozens of television, radio, podcast, and print interviews.

As one of the first openly gay Black members of Congress, Jones framed the fight as a struggle to assert fundamental rights and to preserve hard-won protections for historically disenfranchised and discriminated-against Americans. It was a powerful message, and he took it everywhere.

“We are in an unprecedented moment in American history where there is now a hyper-partisan supermajority on the Supreme Court that is hostile to democracy itself. And so court expansion must be part of the response to that if we are to save our democracy,” Jones told NPR in the spring of 2021. Rejecting the notion that court expansion was a radical step, the congressman said it is the conservative-controlled court that is extreme:

It is the same court that gutted the crown jewel of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby decision that opened the floodgates for voter suppression efforts like what we are seeing now in Georgia, a bill that would never have become law had we still the preclearance provision that the Roberts court struck down in 2013. Of course, it is the Supreme Court majority that decided the Citizens United case, opening the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending in effort to distort and steal our democracy. And so, seven times before, the Supreme Court has changed in size in American history, and now it’s time to do it again.

His enthusiasm on this particular issue—and a range of other economic, social, and racial justice concerns—led Axios in May 2021 to identify Jones as the most active first-term member of Congress, “by a wide margin.”

When he and Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) got the Congressional Progressive Caucus to endorse court expansion in January 2022, Jones explained, “As the Court’s far-right majority assails our democracy and fundamental rights, the need for Court expansion has never been more urgent.”

Unfortunately, not all congressional Democrats shared Jones’s sense of urgency, or his faith that voters were ready for boldly progressive approaches to the judicial crisis. US Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a powerful centrist Democrat who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, elbowed aside Jones after redistricting in 2022 made Maloney’s 18th district slightly less Democratic. The senior congressman jumped to the neighboring 17th district, which included more Democratic parts of Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties—areas that had been largely represented by Jones.

Maloney used his connections and his financial advantage to effectively force out the younger and more progressive member. With few options available to him, Jones mounted a bid for an open New York City seat, but failed to win the Democratic primary. Then, in November, Maloney lost the suburban seat that many believed Jones could have won, in what Politico described as “a humiliating loss for Democrats and the chair of the party’s campaign arm.”

Now, Jones is back in the running for the 17th district seat currently represented by vulnerable Republican Mike Lawler.

Acknowledging that “some people in my party got mad” when he challenged insider approaches to politics, Jones says, “I have never been Washington’s choice, because I stand up to corruption.”

Jones will face a primary challenge next year from a more centrist Democrat—in this case, Liz Whitmer Gereghty, the sister of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

But Jones is starting strong, with endorsements from more than 100 local elected officials and party chairs, along with five key state legislators. The endorsements serve as a reminder that Jones grew up in Rockland County and has maintained ties to the district. He also has a message that is far more attuned to the sentiments of grassroots Democrats at a time when the Supreme Court is very much on the minds of voters who have grown frustrated with cautious Democrats. At a time when, as the former representative says, “marriage equality and so many other freedoms are on the chopping block,” there should be a lot of interest in a Democrat who has a history of responding to atrocious Supreme Court rulings and who asserts, “If the filibuster obstructs us, we will abolish it. If the Supreme Court objects, we will expand it.”

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