Not since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s failed court-packing plan in the 1930s have Democrats so seriously considered ways in which they could overcome the challenges posed by a Supreme Court appointed predominantly by Republicans.
Today’s Democratic Party is a far cry from Roosevelt’s, but some 80 years later, the candidates running for the party’s nomination are entertaining and even endorsing the idea of packing the court with liberal justices.
Still enraged by Republicans’ refusal to grant a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland in 2016, Democrats are looking for ways to change the make-up of the Supreme Court. Currently, conservatives hold a 5-4 advantage over liberals on the court. But some Democrats running for president in 2020 have a plan to change that:
The surprising openness from White House hopefuls along with other prominent Senate Democrats to making sweeping changes — from adding seats to the high court to imposing term limits on judges and more — comes as the party is eager to chip away at the GOP’s growing advantage in the courts.
“Expanding the Supreme Court would amount to a historic power play by the next Democratic president and Congress, requiring an intense legislative fight and the abandonment of many judicial and congressional norms,” per Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine.
Still, that’s not stopping Democrats from advocating for or at least entertaining the radical plan. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) all told Politico they would not rule out expanding the Supreme Court if elected president.
“We are on the verge of a crisis of confidence in the Supreme Court,” said Harris (D-Calif.). “We have to take this challenge head on, and everything is on the table to do that.”
Gillibrand said in an interview that she believes that Justice Neil Gorsuch essentially possesses an illegitimate seat after Garland was denied even a committee hearing. The New York Democrat added that the Senate should move swiftly to impose strict ethics rules on the Supreme Court.
“It’s not just about expansion, it’s about depoliticizing the Supreme Court,” said Warren (D-Mass.), who mentioned bringing appellate judges into Supreme Court cases as an option.
“It’s a conversation that’s worth having,” she added.
Those three Democrats are not alone, however. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who just launched his candidacy last week, said he, too, is open to the idea, along with South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The far-left liberal group Demand Justice is openly advocating for packing the court, adding pressure to these candidates to fall in line.
But not all Democrats are convinced. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) argued that any escalation by Democrats could just as easily be met by Republicans at a later date. “So when the Democrats expand it to 11, 12 judges, when Republicans have it, they expand it to 15 judges,” Booker said.
Though FDR was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempts to pack the Supreme Court, he managed to wrest control of it the old fashioned way: attrition. That’s a strategy Klobuchar said she can get behind: “You always want to look at all ideas, but I think right now the most reasonable thing is to win the elections and to try to stop the bad judges,” she said.
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Author: Jeff Bechdel
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