Democratic lawmakers will introduce legislation to expand the Supreme Court on Thursday, jumping ahead of President Biden’s recently created commission that’s studying the pros and cons of packing the court.
Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Mondaire Jones of New York, and Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia will unveil their bill on the steps of the Supreme Court on Thursday.
The legislation aims to expand the high court from nine justices to 13, and the lawmakers will defend their bill by citing historic precedent for Congress adjusting the size of the bench.
The Supreme Court has had nine justices since 1869. Prior to that, it fluctuated in size from five to 10 justices. The Constitution does not set a number of justices for the high court.
Mr. Biden’s commission, created through an executive order last week, consists of 36 members and will examine “the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court; the membership and size of the Court; and the Court’s case selection, rules, and practices,” according to the White House.
They’ll issue a report 180 days after the commission’s first public meeting, which has not yet been announced.
But progressive advocates have renewed calls to add justices to the bench in recent weeks, hoping a Democratic president can theoretically overturn the 6-3 majority of Republican-appointed justices into a 7-6 Democratic edge.
Mr. Biden resisted the calls during his 2020 campaign to embrace expanding the number. Vice President Kamala D. Harris, though, supported the progressives’ call during the Democratic presidential primary.
Mike Davis, president of the conservative Article III Project, said lawmakers who are part of this effort should be “ashamed” of themselves.
“Democrats who would destroy the independence and legitimacy of the high court must be disavowed as political pariahs by every last one of their colleagues. Packing the Supreme Court would be a declaration of war that could not be undone. President Biden and Democrats in Congress should tread extremely carefully. Packing the Supreme Court is a red line they must not cross. If they actually love their country, they should stand down immediately,” Mr. Davis said.
Court watchers see the timing of Mr. Biden’s executive order on the high court as correlated to the outrage over recent comments by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, a Clinton appointee.
Last week, Justice Breyer poured cold water on the notion of expanding the court, saying it could erode trust in the institution.
Shortly after his comments, progressives launched a pressure campaign, calling for him to retire.
Aaron Belkin, director of the liberal Take Back the Court, said the legislation was a critical step for saving democracy, referencing political battles over election laws.
“The Court’s conservative supermajority has led the charge in Republicans’ assault on voting. Unless we add seats, they will continue to green light voter suppression and dismantle efforts to protect Americans’ most fundamental rights,” he said.
Republicans on Capitol Hill were infuriated by news of the legislation Wednesday night.
Rep. Mike Johnson, Louisiana Republican, offered an amendment to a bill analyzing reparations for Blacks that was being debated by the House Judiciary Committee. His amendment denounced the idea of increasing the size of the court.
“The idea of packing the Supreme Court is so dangerous, we have to address it now,” Mr. Johnson said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, insisted it was a radical move.
“Imagine if we reduced the number from nine to five and just kept the Republicans. You guys would go crazy,” he said.
Mr. Nadler, one of the sponsors of the Supreme Court plan, dismissed Mr. Johnson’s amendment as having nothing to do with reparations.
“The size of the Supreme Court has increased in the past. President Lincoln increased the size of the court,” Mr. Nadler said.
• Kery Murakami contributed to this report.