President Biden signed an executive order establishing a commission to study Supreme Court packing and other reform proposals. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Supreme Court Packing Commission
Morgan Chalfant and John Kruzel, writing in The Hill, report: “President Biden signed an executive order Friday establishing a commission to study whether to add seats to the Supreme Court and other reform proposals… fulfilling a promise he made on the campaign trail.
The commission will be chaired by former White House counsel Bob Bauer and Cristina Rodríguez, a Yale law school professor and former deputy assistant attorney general, and largely consists of academics and former officials from across the political spectrum.
It will delve into the issue of potentially expanding the court — an idea that has been floated by some progressives but heavily criticized by Republicans — and which Biden himself has been cool to, though without explicitly ruling out the option.”
Here’s what both sides are saying about the proposal:
On The Right
The right sees a commission stacked with Democrats who are operating on their party’s behalf. They see no reason for Biden’s proposal other than to intimidate the current justices on matters expected to come before the Supreme Court.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board observes that “Packing the Court hasn’t been actively debated since FDR’s attempt flopped in the 1930s.” They are critical of the commission, which they say will “tilt markedly to the political left” despite a few token conservatives present among the 36-member group. “The danger,” they say, “is that these conservatives will lend a bipartisan patina to a commission that by its very existence is…intended to make the Justices think twice about rulings that progressives dislike.” The editors believe this will result in eroded “public trust” in yet another formerly great American institution. They conclude by stating that “the political backlash will be furious.”
Quin Hillyer warns in The Washington Examiner that “Biden is solving nothing” in his efforts to reform the Court, which will instead “undermine faith in the American system of justice and further violate his bad-faith promise to run a ‘unifying’ administration.” He points out that the “commission is rigged…by noted liberals with close ties to the Obama-Biden orbit and to the leftist legal activist world that favors court-packing.” Hillyer goes back in history, pointing out that “Not even Roosevelt got away with” such a power grab, even after a massive electoral college landslide. He argues that there is simply no reason for this commission since “The court works just fine as it is and indeed enjoys the highest approval rating of any branch of the federal government.”
Lastly, in The Hill, Joe Concha documents New York Times coverage of Biden’s move, in which the left-leaning outlet calls Biden’s order “an effort to balance the conservative majority created by Donald Trump.” He asks rhetorically, if “President Trump ordered a commission through executive order to study expanding the Supreme Court in the name of balance, would the Times frame it the same way?” Concha quotes Biden himself, who in 1983 called court-packing “a bonehead idea” and “a terrible, terrible mistake to make” which “put in question…the independence of the most significant body…in this country, the Supreme Court of the United States of America.” Concha has no doubt that “this sham of a commission” will come out in favor of court-packing, and the New York Times will continue to “report that the panel is bipartisan.” He believes the result will ultimately see a Supreme Court that “is officially weaponized and changed forever.”
Conservatives believe court-packing is a dangerous idea that should remain in the dustbin of history, warning that such attempts will undermine public trust in one of America’s most revered institutions.
On The Left
The Progressive wing of the Democratic party is in favor of expanding the Supreme Court, although they aren’t super optimistic that this commission will be successful as it relates to that goal. Moderates think the commission should focus its efforts on other potential solutions like instituting term limits for Supreme Court Justices.
Ian Millhiser, writing for Vox, criticizes the commission’s composition, saying it fails to include “people who have actually spent a meaningful amount of time advocating for Supreme Court reforms.” Although he once viewed Court expansion as a radical idea, Millhiser credits several political “traumas” now drawing court-packing support from Democrats. He criticizes the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal “to even give a confirmation hearing” to Justice Merrick Garland before the 2016 election, followed by Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation “just eight days before the 2020 election.” Millhiser believes Republicans were undeserving of both appointments, as former President Trump lost the popular vote and Republicans represent millions of fewer Americans than their Democratic counterparts despite controlling the Senate. Millhiser contends that “The mere threat of court-packing can serve an important function,” but ultimately believes that “This commission is unlikely to support significant reforms.”
After examining coverage from legal experts on both the left and right, Tim O’Donnell concludes in The Week that “The commission looks like it’ll be a dud.” He quotes attorney Jonathan Turley, who writes that “Few moderates or conservatives would put much weight in such a stacked commission.” Instead, Turley believes the commission “could be an effort to defuse the left while sentencing the court-packing scheme to death-by-commission — a favorite lethal practice in Washington.”
Finally, The Washington Post Editorial Board focuses its attention on other meaningful policy changes that don’t include packing the court such as “replacing life tenure, instituted in 1788, at a time of much shorter life expectancy, with an 18-year term.” They believe such a change “would drain some of the intensity from Supreme Court politics by providing both parties with foreseeable, regular opportunities to nominate justices.” Rather than packing or expanding the court, the WaPo editors advocate for term limits, which they say “should be high on Mr. Biden’s commission’s agenda.”
Although the left favors Supreme Court reforms, they do not expect the commission to come out in full support of court-packing.
Flag This: Supreme Court Packing Commission
A poll conducted from Oct. 15 – 18 by the New York Times and Siena College found that just 31% of respondents said they were in favor of court-packing, with 11% undecided and 58% against the idea.
Meanwhile an October 4, 2020, Washington Examiner/YouGov poll shows that 47% of registered voters thought Democrats should refrain from packing the court irrespective of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation. That’s compared to the 34% who thought altering the court was justified under such a scenario.
What do you think about President Biden’s Supreme Court commission? Use the comment section below to share your thoughts.