Bill to enlarge the Supreme Court faces dim prospects in Congress

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, surrounded by other lawmakers, speaking at lectern with Supreme Court in background.


By James Romoser

at 5:47 pm

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, along with other supporters of the Supreme Court expansion, speaks to reporters at 1 First Street. (Katie Barlow)

Four Congressional Democrats passed legislation on Thursday to increase the number of Supreme Court seats from nine to 13, but party leaders in both the House and Senate immediately threw cold water on the scene.

The court’s enlargement – once a marginal idea – has become a rallying cry for many Liberal Democrats, who continue to fret about how Republicans handled the Supreme Court nominations in 2016 and 2020. Under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate turned down a confirmation hearing to Merrick Garland last year of the Obama presidency, but rushed to confirm Amy Coney Barrett weeks before the November election four years later.

“We have a stilted, illegitimate, 6-3 Conservative majority in the court,” Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey said at a press conference in front of the Supreme Court to unveil the legislation. “The Republicans stole two seats in the Supreme Court, and now it’s up to us to repair the damage.”

But despite its support on the left, and despite the fact that the Democrats now control both chambers, the bill has little chance of being passed in the current political environment. As a candidate, President Joe Biden said he was “not a fan” of court enlargement proposals, and last week he appointed a commission to investigate various types of court reforms – another indication that he has no interest in a comprehensive one Advocate investigation plan to add seating in the short term. House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that she did not intend to speak out on the law expanding the court. And Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate’s second highest Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested that lawmakers wait for Biden’s commission to issue a report due within 180 days of its first session.

“I want to give the commission time this time to do their due diligence and review the actions they recommend when it comes to important potential court reforms,” ​​Durbin said via a spokesman.

Republicans have condemned proposals to add seats to the court as a politically motivated trial. The Judicial Crisis Network, a group campaigning for conservative judicial nominations, announced Thursday that it is launching a $ 1 million advertising campaign to crack down on the bill.

Titled the Judiciary Act of 2021, the bill would change the number of judges from nine to 13 in two sentences. In addition to Markey, the bill is sponsored by three members of the House of Representatives: House Justice Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York, Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, and Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York.

Congress has the power to determine the size of the Supreme Court, and it has changed the number of judges seven times in the nation’s history, from a low of five to as many as ten judges at one point. However, the size of the court has remained fixed at nine judges since the late 19th century.

Even the law’s sponsors appeared to recognize its high political hurdles when they spoke to reporters outside the court on Thursday. “I think Spokesman Pelosi and others will come along,” said Nadler. Markey added that the panel must first get rid of the filibuster in order for the bill to have a chance to clear the Senate.

Jones urged members of Congress to act quickly on judicial reform instead of waiting for Biden’s commission to analyze the problem. Questioning the need for further studies, he noted that although the Commission is tasked with drawing up a report, it does not have a mandate to make formal proposals.

“There are no instructions to make recommendations that I found interesting,” said Jones. “Besides, the damage has already been done. We do not need a commission telling us that we must restore the balance to the court. “