President Joe Biden will order a bipartisan commission to study, over 180 days, whether to expand the Supreme Court, fulfilling a campaign promise urged by some Democrats who have called for adding seats to the bench or instituting term limits for justices.
Biden faced increasing pressure from members of his party after then-President Donald Trump named three justices to the court, resulting in a bench with a conservative 6-3 balance. One of those seats was filled days before the 2020 presidential election, when Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
A former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden has declined to say whether he supports efforts to reform the court, such as expanding the number of justices beyond its current nine members or instituting term limits. Justices currently serve lifetime appointments.
Still, the president has said in the past that the system is “getting out of whack.”
Biden’s executive order calls for naming a 36-person commission that will review the court’s history, precedent around changes to the nomination process, and will investigate the potential consequences of altering the court’s size, according to the White House.
It will also hold public meetings to solicit outside opinions.
The commission will not issue specific recommendations once it completes its study, however.
Yale Law School professor Cristina Rodriguez and New York University law professor and former White House counsel Bob Bauer will co-lead the commission.
Bauer, a veteran of the Obama White House, is married to Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn and also served as counsel to the Democratic leader during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.
Rodriguez is the former deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.
Progressives’ calls to expand the nine-seat court, an idea sometimes known as “court-packing,” grew louder through Trump’s term as the ideological balance shifted to a conservative majority. Senate Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland for Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat after his death in 2016.
The Constitution does not specify how many seats the court should hold.
Expanding the court was proposed by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who pushed legislation to “reform” the judiciary in 1937 after the high court struck down several of his New Deal laws. At the time, Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, while the court leaned Republican.
Roosevelt’s plan to add extra justices to the bench, for a total of 15, was panned by Democrats and Republicans and hurt him politically.
While Biden has railed against court-packing in the past, calling it “a bonehead idea when FDR tried it,” he has stepped back from this position.
During the first presidential debate, Biden would not answer a question from moderator Chris Wallace about such proposals, even as Trump pressed him.
“Whatever position I take on that, that will become the issue,” Biden said at the time. “The issue is the American people should speak.”
“Are you going to pack the court?” Trump asked. “He doesn’t want to answer the question.”
“I’m not going to answer the question because the question is … will you shut up, man?” Biden responded.
The idea is not universally popular, including among Democrats.
A Washington Examiner/YouGov poll last year found that nearly half of registered voters opposed expanding the court, 47%, while 34% were in favor. At the time, the court had a 5-3 conservative majority and one vacancy following Ginsberg’s death.
Among the 60% of Democrats who said they supported the idea, half said the court should be balanced between conservative and liberal-leaning justices.
Overall, 11% called for an “overwhelmingly liberal” composition, compared to 47% who favor a balanced split. Among Democrats, 52% said they prefer an ideologically balanced court, with 38% preferring a liberal majority.
The poll surveyed 1,200 registered voters and had a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.
Author : Katherine Doyle
Source : Washington Examiner : Biden ordering commission to study expanding Supreme Court