President Joe Biden on Friday appointed Judge Thomas B. Griffith, a BYU graduate and former General Counsel at the University of Provo, Utah, to the new Presidential Commission of the United States Supreme Court, according to a White House press release.
The White House said Biden’s Executive Ordinance set up the commission to analyze proposals for reform of the Supreme Court, including whether to increase the size of the court, change the length of judges’ tenure, and reconsider the selection of judges.
Griffith was called to the federal justice system twice by President George W. Bush and retired from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in September after 15 years. Griffith, a member of Latter-day Saints Church of Jesus Christ, was BYU General Counsel from 2000 to 2005.
Griffith was unavailable to comment on Friday’s appointment. Judge Paul Cassell, a professor at the University of Utah Law School, said Griffith is bringing a legal perspective to the commission, which has 36 members, because he has just left the bank.
“As someone who has served before the second highest court in the country, he has a good understanding of how the Supreme Court works with the rest of the federal judiciary and how it works with other courts across the country. The perspective will be very useful,” said the prospect Cassell.
The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has a unique impact on federal appeals circles as it handles federal appeals, said Cassell, who served as the DC Circuit clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“He had an excellent run on the course with a lot of excellent opinions,” Cassell said of Griffith. “It is a great honor for someone from Utah to be tried on this court.”
The Republicans attacked the commission in an attempt to “pack” the court and increase the number of judges with Biden candidates.
Several members of the All-Republican delegation in Utah were among those who expressed concern about the order of the executive branch on Friday.
“My Democratic friends lament the past President for weakening our institutions with his words and behavior, but they are now cheering the efforts to grab the Supreme Court and end the Senate filibuster who created our institutions Republic would belittle forever, “said Senator Mitt Romney. R-Utah said in a statement to the Deseret News.
Romney is co-founder of a bill to amend the Constitution to limit the Supreme Court to nine judges. The law was reinstated in Congress in January.
R-Utah Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, tweeted, “Court wrapping will only compromise the integrity of the Supreme Court and, as Judge Breyer has indicated, politicize the court and damage public confidence in its decisions.”
I am deeply concerned about this first step in increasing the number of seats on the Supreme Court.
Court wrapping will only compromise the integrity of the Supreme Court and, as Judge Breyer has indicated, will politicize the Court and damage public confidence in its decisions. #utpol https://t.co/tbNIQDHz3T
– Rep. John Curtis (@RepJohnCurtis) April 9, 2021
Griffith adds non-partisanship to the commission.
“It is clear that he was appointed by a Republican president to serve on the bank. I think he may have a different perspective than some of the others,” the professor said. “… I think there are a few different points of view on the Commission, but I think we have to acknowledge that it is very inclined towards leftist people.”
Other members of the commission include Harvard constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe, former Assistant Attorney General and Acting US Attorney General Walter Dellinger, and former White House Law Firm Chief of Staff Kate Andrias.
The White House said the commission’s work will be conducted through public meetings where it will hear from other experts and perspectives. The Executive Regulation instructs the Commission to finalize its report within 180 days of its first public meeting.
The White House also said the Biden administration would consider other measures to improve federal justice.
Griffith is now a special advisor to the international law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth and a lecturer at Harvard Law School.
Griffith’s biography published by the White House included previous positions he held regarding the performance and standards of the judiciary:
Thomas B. Griffith served on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit from 2005 to 2020. Today he is Special Counsel to Hunton Andrews Kurth, Senior Advisor to the National Institute for Civil Discourse and Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School. During his tenure on the DC Circuit, Judge Griffith served on the Judicial Conference Committee for the Justice Department, which deals with the relationship of federal justice with the executive and Congress, and the Code of Conduct Committee, which sets the ethical standards applicable to the federal judiciary. Prior to his appointment to the DC Circuit, Judge Griffith was General Counsel of Brigham Young University. He previously served as Senate Legal Adviser, Senate Impartial Chief Legal Officer, and previously served as a partner at Wiley, Rein & Fielding. Richter Griffith has long been active in the American Bar Association’s rule of law projects in Eastern Europe and Eurasia and is currently a member of the International Advisory Board of the CEELI Institute in Prague. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and the University of Virginia School of Law.