Democrats Introduce Bill to Expand the Supreme Court But Pelosi Cool to the Idea

Author : hajrus
Publish Date : 2021-04-16 05:55:08
Democrats Introduce Bill to Expand the Supreme Court But Pelosi Cool to the Idea

The move is largely symbolic as the legislation is not likely to go anywhere, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lukewarm on the idea.
Democrats' new legislation to add four seats to the Supreme Court won resounding praise from activists who've been rallying behind a slate of reforms over the past few years. But Democratic leadership is treading lightly on the effort and deferring to President Joe Biden's new Supreme Court commission to see what, if any, changes would be appropriate to make at the high court.

[ READ: Biden Creates Commission on Supreme Court ]
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The Judiciary Act of 2021, which was introduced Thursday by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York, would expand the court to 12 associate justices and one chief justice. Congress has the authority to set the number of seats, but the number has remained at nine justices for more than a century.

The bill was borne out of a years-long effort and pressure campaign by progressives and activists to "rebalance" the court after former President Donald Trump appointed three new justices to the bench during his time in office. The idea, commonly referred to as "court packing," has faced fierce opposition from Republicans and more muted resistance from some Democrats, including Biden who has previously said he's "not a fan" of adding seats.

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Top Democrats say they remain open to the idea but so far leaders in both chambers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, aren't ready to sign onto the bill and reiterated support for Biden's commission. And while Republicans have the votes to block the legislation on their own in a closely divided 50-50 Senate, the bill faces even steeper hurdles with Pelosi saying she doesn't plan to bring it to the floor of the House.

"I don't know if it's a good idea or bad idea. I think it's an idea that should be considered and I think the president's taking the right approach to have a commission to study such a thing," Pelosi said at a Thursday press conference.

"It's not out of the question – it's been done before. The growth of our country, the growth of our challenges … might necessitate such a thing," she continued while adding that she has "no plans to bring it to the floor."

[ READ: SCOTUS Dismisses ‘Public Charge’ Challenge ]
Nine justices have made up the Supreme Court since 1869 but prior to that, the number changed six times. The court started at six seats in 1789 and has gone as high as 10 justices. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Congress to pass legislation that would add seats for every justice over age 70 who wouldn't retire – up to six additional seats – but the proposal never went anywhere.

Democrats' latest court effort comes less than a week after Biden announced the creation of a commission to study various court reforms including expansion, term limits and other ideas and then furnish a report to him after six months.


But progressives and reform advocates worry the commission won't yield real solutions and reiterated calls that adding seats is the only way to remedy what they see as an unfair court. Liberal activists have bolstered their efforts in recent years to get Democratic voters as fired up about the Supreme Court and federal judiciary as conservatives have been for decades. And they believe issues to remake government, which include gutting the legislative filibuster in the Senate, will excite and motivate base voters as the party moves further to the left.

They doubled down on reforms like court expansion after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was installed on the bench days before the 2020 election. Democrats accused Republicans of hypocrisy after they pushed through Barrett's nomination despite previously blocking Democrats from filling a vacancy in 2016 because it was months out from the presidential race.

Along with Barrett, Trump named two others to the high court during his tenure. After blocking an Obama nominee, Republicans confirmed Neil Gorsuch in 2017 to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat. The following year, the party confirmed Brett Kavanaugh, who faced sexual misconduct allegations that he has denied, to replace former Justice Anthony Kennedy.

"Progressives understand we cannot afford to wait six months for an academic study to tell us what we already know: the Supreme Court is broken and in need of reform," Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon said in a statement. "Our task now is to build a grassroots movement that puts pressure on every Democrat in Congress to support this legislation because it is the only way to restore balance to the court and protect our democracy."

Still, a number of Democrats remain wary of the idea of court packing.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he's holding off on making a decision on the legislation until at least Biden's commission plays out. And he remains undecided on whether he'll bring it up before his committee for a vote.

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"I'm not ready to sign on yet. I think this commission of Biden is the right move," Durbin told CNN on Thursday. "Let's think this through carefully. This is historic."

Others are also taking a wait-and-see approach but acknowledge something needs to be done in response to how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republicans have shaped the Supreme Court.

"The bottom line is that we can take a good look at this then we'll see what's appropriate to ask for, but I don't want to put the cart ahead of the horse if you will," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told reporters on Capitol Hill. "There's been a lot of manipulation and I think it's put the court in a very perilous position, and we need to remedy the problems that McConnell caused."


Republicans, for their part, are citing warnings from past and present liberal justices as well as Biden about court packing. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed hesitance towards expansion and Justice Stephen Breyer, who is facing calls from some progressives to retire so Biden can nominate the first Black woman to the court, recently echoed similar remarks. Breyer said he worries that the reform would "diminish" people's confidence in the high court.

"They obviously aren't looking to Democrat-appointed justices, like Ginsburg, that said nine is the perfect number. ... Because it's the most respected federal government institution we have," Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley of Iowa told reporters. "So to speak for better than anything else, I can say what the president said in the past."

Even if the legislation goes nowhere, Republicans are already using it as a way to link moderate Democrats up for reelection next year to the left wing of the party as they seek to take back the majorities in the House and Senate during the 2022 midterms.

"If Republicans had introduced a bill to add four Supreme Court seats for the last president to fill, there would have been weeks of wall-to-wall outrage on every newspaper and cable TV channel. Now it seems the main strategies are either to shrug off and look the other way or to actively play along and somehow lend credence," McConnell said in a floor speech. "It's not just about whether this insane bill becomes law. Part of the point here are the threats themselves."

Tags: Democratic Party, Supreme Court, legislation, politics, United States, Washington Whispers

 

The move is largely symbolic as the legislation is not likely to go anywhere, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lukewarm on the idea.
Democrats' new legislation to add four seats to the Supreme Court won resounding praise from activists who've been rallying behind a slate of reforms over the past few years. But Democratic leadership is treading lightly on the effort and deferring to President Joe Biden's new Supreme Court commission to see what, if any, changes would be appropriate to make at the high court.

[ READ: Biden Creates Commission on Supreme Court ]
Recommended Videos
Powered by AnyClip
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8.8K
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NOW PLAYINGBiden pledges to end ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan
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The Judiciary Act of 2021, which was introduced Thursday by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York, would expand the court to 12 associate justices and one chief justice. Congress has the authority to set the number of seats, but the number has remained at nine justices for more than a century.

The bill was borne out of a years-long effort and pressure campaign by progressives and activists to "rebalance" the court after former President Donald Trump appointed three new justices to the bench during his time in office. The idea, commonly referred to as "court packing," has faced fierce opposition from Republicans and more muted resistance from some Democrats, including Biden who has previously said he's "not a fan" of adding seats.

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Top Democrats say they remain open to the idea but so far leaders in both chambers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, aren't ready to sign onto the bill and reiterated support for Biden's commission. And while Republicans have the votes to block the legislation on their own in a closely divided 50-50 Senate, the bill faces even steeper hurdles with Pelosi saying she doesn't plan to bring it to the floor of the House.

"I don't know if it's a good idea or bad idea. I think it's an idea that should be considered and I think the president's taking the right approach to have a commission to study such a thing," Pelosi said at a Thursday press conference.

"It's not out of the question – it's been done before. The growth of our country, the growth of our challenges … might necessitate such a thing," she continued while adding that she has "no plans to bring it to the floor."

[ READ: SCOTUS Dismisses ‘Public Charge’ Challenge ]
Nine justices have made up the Supreme Court since 1869 but prior to that, the number changed six times. The court started at six seats in 1789 and has gone as high as 10 justices. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Congress to pass legislation that would add seats for every justice over age 70 who wouldn't retire – up to six additional seats – but the proposal never went anywhere.

Democrats' latest court effort comes less than a week after Biden announced the creation of a commission to study various court reforms including expansion, term limits and other ideas and then furnish a report to him after six months.


But progressives and reform advocates worry the commission won't yield real solutions and reiterated calls that adding seats is the only way to remedy what they see as an unfair court. Liberal activists have bolstered their efforts in recent years to get Democratic voters as fired up about the Supreme Court and federal judiciary as conservatives have been for decades. And they believe issues to remake government, which include gutting the legislative filibuster in the Senate, will excite and motivate base voters as the party moves further to the left.

They doubled down on reforms like court expansion after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was installed on the bench days before the 2020 election. Democrats accused Republicans of hypocrisy after they pushed through Barrett's nomination despite previously blocking Democrats from filling a vacancy in 2016 because it was months out from the presidential race.

Along with Barrett, Trump named two others to the high court during his tenure. After blocking an Obama nominee, Republicans confirmed Neil Gorsuch in 2017 to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat. The following year, the party confirmed Brett Kavanaugh, who faced sexual misconduct allegations that he has denied, to replace former Justice Anthony Kennedy.

"Progressives understand we cannot afford to wait six months for an academic study to tell us what we already know: the Supreme Court is broken and in need of reform," Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon said in a statement. "Our task now is to build a grassroots movement that puts pressure on every Democrat in Congress to support this legislation because it is the only way to restore balance to the court and protect our democracy."

Still, a number of Democrats remain wary of the idea of court packing.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he's holding off on making a decision on the legislation until at least Biden's commission plays out. And he remains undecided on whether he'll bring it up before his committee for a vote.

[ MORE: SCOTUS to Review Trump Abortion Rule ]
"I'm not ready to sign on yet. I think this commission of Biden is the right move," Durbin told CNN on Thursday. "Let's think this through carefully. This is historic."

Others are also taking a wait-and-see approach but acknowledge something needs to be done in response to how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republicans have shaped the Supreme Court.

"The bottom line is that we can take a good look at this then we'll see what's appropriate to ask for, but I don't want to put the cart ahead of the horse if you will," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told reporters on Capitol Hill. "There's been a lot of manipulation and I think it's put the court in a very perilous position, and we need to remedy the problems that McConnell caused."


Republicans, for their part, are citing warnings from past and present liberal justices as well as Biden about court packing. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed hesitance towards expansion and Justice Stephen Breyer, who is facing calls from some progressives to retire so Biden can nominate the first Black woman to the court, recently echoed similar remarks. Breyer said he worries that the reform would "diminish" people's confidence in the high court.

"They obviously aren't looking to Democrat-appointed justices, like Ginsburg, that said nine is the perfect number. ... Because it's the most respected federal government institution we have," Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley of Iowa told reporters. "So to speak for better than anything else, I can say what the president said in the past."

Even if the legislation goes nowhere, Republicans are already using it as a way to link moderate Democrats up for reelection next year to the left wing of the party as they seek to take back the majorities in the House and Senate during the 2022 midterms.

"If Republicans had introduced a bill to add four Supreme Court seats for the last president to fill, there would have been weeks of wall-to-wall outrage on every newspaper and cable TV channel. Now it seems the main strategies are either to shrug off and look the other way or to actively play along and somehow lend credence," McConnell said in a floor speech. "It's not just about whether this insane bill becomes law. Part of the point here are the threats themselves."

Tags: Democratic Party, Supreme Court, legislation, politics, United States, Washington Whispers



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