Democrats to introduce legislation to expand Supreme Court
House and Senate Democrats will introduce legislation Thursday to expand the number of Supreme Court justices to 13 from nine, drawing more attention to the debate surrounding court reform.
The bill, led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), is the first legislation in recent years designed to add seats to the high court, and its introduction comes as progressive organizations are pushing for court expansion, after watching Senate Republicans fill three Supreme Court vacancies in four years under President Donald Trump.
Brian Fallon, executive director of the liberal group Demand Justice, said the bill represents a “new era where Democrats finally stop conceding the Supreme Court to Republicans.” He added that the task for progressives 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.”
President Joe Biden, however, has said he is “not a fan” of the idea, also known as “court packing.” Instead, the White House announced last week the creation of a bipartisan commission to study reforms to the Supreme Court and produce a report. The high court currently has a 6-3 conservative majority.
While advocates have been pushing for the addition of seats to the Supreme Court, the bill won’t see much movement in the evenly split Senate, with all Republicans and several moderate Democrats opposed to court expansion. The legislation is all but guaranteed to prompt attacks from Republicans, who during the 2020 elections warned that Democrats would expand the courts if they took control of Washington.
Justice Stephen Breyer, who outside groups are urging to retire before the 2022 midterms, recently cautioned against court packing for fear that doing so would only undermine public confidence in the institution.
The issue, nevertheless, served as a litmus test during the 2020 Democratic primary for progressives. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Pete Buttigieg suggested they were open to the idea. But others, including Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did not back it. The number of seats on the high court has fluctuated in American history, from as few as five to as many as 10.