This month, Democrats in both chambers of Congress have made clear their intention of expanding the Supreme Court, with the clear intention of swinging the Court’s sphere of influence away from conservatives and back towards the Left. But while Democrats increasingly support such a proposal, it wasn’t long ago that leaders in the party strongly opposed the idea.
Here are 14 times Democrats said court-packing was an idea they could not get behind.
1. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) warned that Congress needed to be “very, very careful” when considering court packing.
“I think it’s — we should be very, very careful in doing so. I have no problem with the commission, but I think that the commission is going to come back and disappoint a lot of people because I think they’re going to come back and say, we should just kind of leave it alone,” The Daily Wire reported. “I think it would be inappropriate at this time after that long history we’ve had in the country [to] have term limits for judges. I think that we better be very, very careful in saying that we need to expand the Supreme Court. I think we better be very, very, careful.”
2. Earlier this month, Justice Stephen Breyer warned about the politics of court-packing.
As The Daily Wire reported, Breyer explained the Court’s power is dependent on “a trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics. Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that perception, further eroding that trust.”
3. In early 2020, then-Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) warned that court-packing is a way of slapping a “band-aid” on a problem, not fixing it.
“Simply expanding the numbers [sic] of Supreme Court justices that we have doesn’t solve the problem,” Gabbard told a crowd. “I’m a big believer in actually understanding the problem we’re trying to solve first so that we can come up with a solution that deals with it and not just put a band-aid on it or throw something out there that not only doesn’t solve the problem but could actually end up making it worse.”
4. Joe Biden said in 2020 that court-packing would be “damaging” to our society.
He said he did not favor “structural changes,” like eliminating the filibuster and packing the Court.
“That structural change requires Constitutional amendments. It raises more problems that are damaging than the problem that exists,” he told The Weekly. “The reason [the Founding Fathers] gave judges a lifetime tenure, you know why.”
5. In a 2020 presidential campaign event, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) said court-packing “is not the ultimate solution.”
“In terms of the Supreme Court, here is my concern about expanding the numbers of the Supreme Court, say if the Democrats are in the position to do that. What my worry is that the next time the Republicans are in power they will do the same thing,” Sanders explained. “So I think that is not the ultimate solution.”
6. During a segment on “Real Time With Bill Maher” in 2019, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) expressed concern over the idea of court-packing.
“Where does it stop?” Tester asked. “So we go from nine to 15? And next to 27 and so on?”
7. In 2019, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he opposes court-packing because it would create “an arms race” between the two political parties.
“I am not, I do not think expanding the Supreme Court makes sense, and I’ll tell you why: because of history. I admire so greatly Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but he tried it and it backfired in so many ways. I think there are some things we have to say are set, and then we have to work politically to make the changes we need,” de Blasio told The New York Times. “I think at this point in history, the best way to change America is through the electoral process, and that will very rapidly change our judiciary.”
“It will take longer with the Supreme Court but I worry that we end up in a kind of arms race if one administration increases the size of the Court for their ends and then another party comes into power and increases it again,” he said. “I don’t find that good for the country.”
8. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in 2019 that she opposed packing the Court as a “solution” to what she saw as a “temporary situation.”
“I have heard that there are some people on the Democratic side who would like to increase the number of judges. I think that was a bad idea when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to pack the Court. His plan was for every justice who stays on the Court past the age of 70, the president would have authority to nominate another justice. If that plan had been effective, the Court’s number would have swelled immediately from nine to 15 and the president would have six appointments to make,” she explained during an interview with NPR.
“… if anything, it would make the Court appear partisan, it would be that, one side saying, ‘When we’re in power, we’re going to enlarge the number of judges so we have more people who vote the way we want them to,” RBG said. “So I am not at all in favor of that solution to what I see as a temporary situation.”
9. During a debate in 2019, Joe Biden said he wasn’t “into court-packing.”
“I would not get into court-packing. We had three justices, next time around we lose control, they add three justices,” Biden explained. “We begin to lose any credibility the Court has at all.”
10. In 2019, Former Congressman John Delaney (D-MD) said there are “some norms” that need to be “respected” and one of those is the make up of the Supreme Court.
“If we pack the court, guess what happens when Republicans are in control? They pack the court,” Delaney told The Hill TV. “I kind of think these norms actually matter. Right? I think our society and the success of this extraordinary country was based on this notion that there was some respect for basic norms. Court packing goes against that, and it just leads you down this terrible path where each side then does it, and where does it end?”
11. Then-Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) disagreed with calls to pack the Court in 2018.
“Seventy-five years ago, we went through this,” Durbin said at the time, according to the Washington Examiner. “And I think the Congress was correct in stopping this popular president named Franklin Roosevelt from that idea.”
12. In 2018, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) worried about “tinkering” with the Court.
“We have a long tradition of nine jurists, and we should be very sober before we start tinkering with things like that,” Booker said about his colleagues’ proposals, the Washington Examiner reported.
13. In 2005, then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-VT) said President Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Court was a “power grab” based on corruption.
“The Senate again stood firm in ’37 in the court-packing attempt… Roosevelt had just come off a landslide victory over Alf Landon. He had a Congress made up of solid New Dealers but the nine old men of the Court were thwarting his agenda. In this environment Roosevelt — and remember this old addage about ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ — corrupted by power in my view, unveiled his court-packing plan,” Biden recounted. “He wanted to increase the number of justices to 15, allowing himself to nominate those additional judges.”
“It took an act of courage on the part of his own party, institutionally, to stand up against this power grab,” the senator said. He reminded his colleagues that those on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time Roosevelt was in power were New Dealers who supported the president’s agenda. Despite that, they disagreed with packing the Court.
Biden said history will look on the Senate to conclude whether they were “statesman” who put the institution of the Supreme Court “above party and politics” or as “politicians bending to the will of the executive and to political expediency.
14. In 1983, then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-VT) said it was a “bonehead” idea for President Roosevelt to attempt to pack the Court.
“President Roosevelt clearly had the right to send to the United States Senate and the United States Congress a proposal to pack the Court. It was totally within his right to do that. He violated no law. He was legalistically, absolutely correct,” Biden said at the time, according to Newsweek. “But it was a bonehead idea. It was a terrible, terrible mistake to make. And it put in question, for an entire decade, the independence of the most significant body—including the Congress included in my view—in this country, the Supreme Court of the United States of America.”
What suddenly changed their take on the Court? Is it the fact that it’s more conservative leaning? Or is it that “Orange Man Bad” had three nominations confirmed? Maybe it’s the fact that President Trump replaced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the feminist titan — with Justice Amy Coney Barrett?
Either way, the Democrats current position is, in many ways, a complete 180 from what they have said in the past. Packing the Court is still a dangerous precedent that would cause a never-ending cycle of expansion. The Constitution doesn’t limit how many justices sit on the Supreme Court, meaning additions could, theoretically, take place for all eternity, unless Congress passes a constitutional amendment solidifying the number of justices.
Beth Baumann is a Political Reporter and Editor at The Daily Wire. Follow her on Twitter @eb454.
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