Democrats kick off push to pack Supreme Court with four new justices
A group of Democrats Thursday formally launched a legislative effort to pack the Supreme Court by adding four new justices, in a move that was hailed by progressive activists but quickly met with fierce GOP opposition and skepticism by Democratic leadership.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., along with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Judiciary Committee members Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., stood outside the Supreme Court Thursday to announce their new legislation to expand the high court from 9 to 13 justices.
They said the far-right has hijacked the court thanks to "norm-breaking" moves by Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and expanding the number of justices is necessary to restore balance and integrity to the highest court in America.
Jones, a freshman lawmaker from New York's Westchester County, said the Supreme Court's latest decisions on campaign finance, voting rights and partisan gerrymandering show the "court has been hostile to democracy itself."'
FILE -- Rep.-elect Mondaire Jones, right, bumps elbows with a supporter after addressing a Protect the Results rally, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in front of the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains, N.Y. Jones and Ritchie Torres, both Democrats, became the first gay Black men to be elected to Congress. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
"Our democracy is hanging by a thread. And the far-right majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is cutting it," Jones said in a statement. "... The American people have had enough. To restore power to the people, we must expand the Supreme Court."
The Judiciary Act of 2021 is just a two-page bill that would increase the number of justices on the court from 9 to 13, setting up an immediate opportunity for President Biden to nominate four new justices to be confirmed in the Democratic-led Senate.
The legislation has long-odds of passing Congress because unless Democrats abolish the filibuster, it would require 60 votes for passage in the Senate.
But Markey said it's time to abolish the filibuster in order to pass the legislation to pack the court.
FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 file photo, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey speaks to delegates during the 2019 Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention, in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)
"Republicans stole the Court’s majority, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation completing their crime spree," Markey said in a statement. "Of all the damage Donald Trump did to our Constitution, this stands as one of his greatest travesties. Senate Republicans have politicized the Supreme Court, undermined its legitimacy, and threatened the rights of millions of Americans, especially people of color, women, and our immigrant communities."
Biden himself has been cool to court-packing and has only endorsed setting up a 36-member bipartisan commission to study court reforms.
Republicans immediately condemned the proposal as a delusional progressive attempt to nuke the Supreme Court.
McConnell, who conservatives credit for reforming the court by preventing a vote on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and then changing Senate voting thresholds to confirm three of President Trump's nominees, immediately panned the court-packing proposal. He said the move is designed to "guarantee the rulings that liberals want" and would "destroy" the legitimacy of the court.
FILE - In this March 21, 2021, file photo people view the Supreme Court building from behind security fencing on Capitol Hill in Washington after portions of an outer perimeter of fencing were removed overnight to allow public access. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Progressives, however, said with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and White House now is the time to balance out the court, which currently has a 6-3 conservative majority.
"Democrats are officially done being complacent about the courts," Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, a liberal group pushing for court reforms. "Our goal is to build consensus for this plan as quickly as we have seen Democrats align around the need to abolish the Senate filibuster. Expanding the Court is every bit as necessary for restoring our democracy."
The constitution doesn't mandate the number of justices be set at nine. The number is set by Congress and it can be changed without a constitutional amendment.
The Supreme Court's website notes the number of justices changed six times before settling at the current total of nine in 1869.
Democrats said the number of 13 is timely because it reflects how the number of appellate courts in America has grown from 9 to 13 with time.
"Thirteen justices for thirteen circuits is a sensible progression," Nadler said in a statement.
In addition to Biden, other Democrats are cool to the plan of court-packing. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee which has jurisdiction of the courts, said he's not ready to endorse the bill.
"I just heard about it," Durbin said. "I'm not ready to sign on yet. I think this commission of Biden's is the right move. Let's think this through carefully. This is historic."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday she also supports Biden's commission to study reforms and doesn't plan to advance the court-packing legislation to a full House vote.
"I have no plans to bring it to the floor," Pelosi said.