October 20, 2021

Supreme Court Commission

“A White House commission studying potential changes to the U.S. Supreme Court said expanding the number of justices would pose ‘considerable’ risks and might further politicize the court, according to preliminary draft documents released on Thursday… Biden signed an executive order in April creating the 36-member bipartisan commission in response to calls from the left for seats to be added in order to counteract the 6-3 conservative majority on the nation's highest court.” Reuters

Here’s our previous coverage of the commission. The Flip Side

See past issues

From the Left

The left criticizes the commission for their bias towards the status quo and supports structural reforms to the court.

“When McConnell wanted to remake the Supreme Court, he led an unprecedented campaign of obstruction to block a presidential nominee from getting a fair hearing during an election year. Later, he rushed to fill an additional seat on the court after an election had already started. When Biden was pressed on court reform, he sent it off to a commission to die… The commission was designed to do only one thing: give Joe Biden and Senate Democrats cover for total inaction.”
Elie Mystal, The Nation

“The committee seems to think that an overwhelming bias toward the status quo does not count as taking sides. And perhaps the Biden administration anticipated and approved of this approach. As Harvard professor Maya Sen pointed out on Thursday, the commission is stacked with people who have benefited from the current system, and who have much to lose by criticizing it too harshly. Perversely, it includes multiple conservatives who publicly oppose court expansion but not a single progressive who publicly supports it…

No other country except India has a high court as powerful as the United States’ or allows judges to serve for life. Rather, the vast majority of peer nations strictly limit or disallow judicial review of democratically enacted legislation; and yet most Americans probably would not consider the United Kingdom or France or Israel to be the authoritarian hellscape the commission fears.”
Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern, Slate

When it comes to term limits, the commission is much more positive, arguing that such a reform would remove the element of ‘luck’ as to who can appoint justices. It would also end the strategic retirement game (which itself makes justices look partisan) and give older judges a shot at seats that presidents typically fill with young nominees. With staggered 18-year terms (each president allowed to make two appointments every two years), Supreme Court nominations would become less than do-or-die political brawls…

“[But] The court’s fundamental disconnect from the American people is inevitable when justices are appointed by presidents elected by a minority of the electorate (via the anti-democratic electoral college) and confirmed by a Senate in which red states with small populations exercise disproportionate power. Any effective court reform should begin with an effort to enhance democratic elements in our entire constitutional system.”
Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

“As an alternative to both the status quo and to brute-force court-packing, I’ve proposed choosing every associate justice at random from certain pools of active Article III federal judges. The result would be a 13-member Supreme Court, with a Senate-confirmed chief justice and one associate justice from each of the geographic circuit courts of appeal. They would serve staggered 18-year terms on the high court and then rotate back to their previous posting when it ended.”
Matt Ford, New Republic

From the Right

The right criticizes court-packing and is relieved that the commission did not endorse it.

The right criticizes court-packing and is relieved that the commission did not endorse it.

“You know what they say in Washington about commissions — if you don't want to do something, but you also don't want to be seen explicitly refusing to do it, appoint a commission. That way, nothing will get done, but you can claim to have taken action…

“Changing the makeup of the Supreme Court, which has not been done in more than 150 years, would be a huge deal under any circumstances. Every conservative instinct in the body politic leans against it. But it's a particularly crazy idea now when Democrats have the barest of control over Congress… Of course the Biden Commission has come up with a do-nothing report. That's because nothing is not only the right thing to do, it is the only thing Democrats, with their current level of power in Washington, can do.”
Byron York, Washington Examiner

“There is a long-established norm in our system against Court-packing. That norm was etched into our history books and our collective political memory when Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the peak of his power and popularity in 1937, tried to pack the Court for nakedly political reasons and was rebuffed by his own party and voters…

“Joe Biden himself has talked about the corruption of power inherent in FDR’s plan. The commission notes the existence of this norm ‘since around the mid-twentieth century’ and observes that ‘‘Court-packing’ has been a ‘political epithet’ in our constitutional culture for much of our recent history.’…

“So, how did Court-packing manage to get back on the agenda? Because Democrats saw their ideological advantage on the Court slipping away with the three justices appointed by Donald Trump. Recall that Democratic appointees maintained a majority on the Court from 1939 to 1969, who made vast changes to American constitutional law in the Democrats’ preferred political direction…

“While the Court has seen a Republican-appointed majority more or less continuously since Harry Blackmun joined the Court in 1970, conservatives were regularly thwarted at the Court on a great many of its highest-profile decisions for most of the past half-century. Trump’s appointees finally offered the hope of changing that.”
Dan McLaughlin, National Review

“At Friday’s meeting the University of Chicago’s William Baude compared the exercise to a commission exploring the possibility of state Legislatures overturning presidential election results. Even if the commission gently advises against court-packing, it has given an assault on a constitutional norm undeserved legitimacy. Perhaps that’s why two conservative members, Harvard’s Jack Goldsmith and the University of Virginia’s Caleb Nelson, have resigned from the body. They haven’t explained their decisions…

Democrats are already at work reshaping the judiciary through appointments by President Biden, and they will continue to do so if they continue to win elections. That’s the constitutional path.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

On the bright side

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