What is Court Packing? Biden and Democrats Mull Adding 4 More Justices to Supreme Court

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The worst scare of the Republicans is coming true if reports are to be believed. The Democrats are planning to introduce legislation to add as many as four justices to the US Supreme Court, a move that will tilt the balance of the court completely.

According to various reports, the deeply divisive bill will be introduced on Thursday. As per the new legislation, the number of seats on the supreme court will be raised to 13 from the current 9, , The Intercept and The Wall Street Journal reported.

What is Court Packing?

US Supreme Court
Supreme Court Building, USA Pixabay

Court packing is a contentious and divisive point of debate in the United States. It has always been so. The US Congress had changed the number of justices several times in the 19th Century as the number swayed from five to ten. Eventually, it settled at nine in 1869, after the Civil War and it has remained there so far.

Technically, the Congress can change that number. President Roosevelt mooted changing the court's makeup after he won a sweeping re-election victory in1936. He then proposed adding one new justice each time a justice reached the age 70 but did not retire. This move met with criticism, and it was Edward Rumely who first called it the "court-packing plan.

Will Biden Pack the Court?

Joe Biden had been against the idea of court packing. But that position apparently changed after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year. In the dying days of his presidency, Donald Trump went ahead with the plans to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

When it looked certain that the Senate would confirm Barrett, the Democratic ranks pushed the court packing agenda. They argued that the Democrat White House should change the court's makeup to remove the Conservative majority. Eventually, the confirmation of Barrett gave the conservatives a 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court.

President-elect Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris Twitter/Joe Biden

Though Biden had earlier opposed court packing, he nuanced that stance following the confirmation of Barrett in the last days of Trump presidency. "I will ask them to, over 180 days, come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system, because it's getting out of whack," Biden told a network, responding to the question if he will move ahead with adding more justices if he became the president.

Now it will be interesting what position Biden will take, even as prominent Democrats are pushing for court packing. In a crucial move, Biden signed an executive order last week to form a commission to study the "pros and cons" of adding more judges to the supreme court.

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, who co-sponsored the bill, says that adding justices will shore up the public's confidence in the court and its legitimacy in the public's eyes," according to the WSJ. Other major figures who supported the move are House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, Subcommittee Chair Hank Johnson, and New York Rep. Mondaire Jones.

This article was first published on April 15, 2021