By ZION DECOTEAU
Four progressive leaning congressional Democrats announced their tendentious plans for expanding the Supreme Court in a press conference on Thursday, a move that drew rebuke from both Republicans and centrist to moderate Democrats alike.
“Expanding the Supreme Court rights the wrongs the Republicans have done to this great court,” said Senator Ed Markey.
The two term Massachusetts Democrat was joined by Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, Rep Jerrod Nadler of New York, and Rep Mondaire Jones also of New York outside the steps of the Supreme Court building, in their joint call for the expansion of the court from nine to 13 justices.
“How will there be equal justice when Republicans have purposefully warped and weaponized the highest court of the land for their own partisan gain,” Markey asked.
The group argued that because there are currently six conservatives and three liberals on the court, the conservatives hold n unfair balance of power on the nation’s highest court.
Former President Donald Trump got the Republicans to that majority by appointing three justices in his term: Neil Gorsuch, and controversially Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Kavanaugh’s appointment was embroiled in a scandal involving allegations of sexual assault in his youth.
Democrats accused Trump of rushing Mrs. Barrett’s nomination, which came scant days before the 2020 election, and just weeks after the death of her predecessor Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky championed Barrett’s nomination effort
— despite stating in 2016 that court appointments shouldn’t take place so close to a presidential election — in order to block outgoing President Barack Obama nomination of Merrick Garland, now serving asPresident Biden’s attorney general.
Johnson said that the Constitution did not specify how many justices should sit on the court, to asserting that the framers wanted the legislative branch to have flexibility over time.
There have been nine judges since 1869, reflecting the number of circuit courts that the nation had expanded to in the late 1860s. Likewise the odd number of justices prevents the event of a tie on decisions.
Fluctuating the amount of Justices for political gain is also not a new tactic; prior to 1869 Congress often changed the number of justices to achieve partisan ends. This led to as few as five justices (the legal minimum under President John
Adams), and as many as 10 under President Abraham Lincoln.
Republicans have pejoratively labeled the Democrats idea as “court packing”. Jerry Nadler attempted to reverse that narrative.
“Some people will say we’re packing the court,” he said. “We’re not packing it, we’re unpacking it! Senator McConnell and the Republicans packed the court over the last couple of years.”
More traditional and centrist Democrats aren’t on board with the plans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she has no plans to bring the matter to the floor.
President Biden is no stranger to the Supreme Court appointment process. He was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995 when he oversaw the contentious Clarence Thomas nomination process. During the 2020 election, the then presidential candidate evaded specifying his stance on the issue. But as a senator in in 1983 Biden lambasted ex-president Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1930s court packing proposal.
“It was a bone headed idea….,” he said. “It was a terrible, terrible mistake to make” s it would tarnish the independence of the court.