(Headline USA) President Joe Biden on Friday ordered a study of adding seats to the Supreme Court, creating a commission led by two former lawyers in the Obama administration, that will spend the next six months examining the politically incendiary issues of expanding the court and instituting term limits for its justices.
In launching the review, Biden fulfilled a campaign promise made amid pressure from the far Left to realign the Supreme Court after three nominations during President Donald Trump’s term — shifting the ideological tilt to the right but leaving the overall makeup far short of “conservative.”
“This is an attempt by the radical left to politicize the Supreme Court to advance their political ideology,” said Kelly Shackleford, president of the First Liberty Institute, which focuses on the support for religious freedom. “The last thing we need in this country right now is a Supreme Court coup.”
Trump added three justices to the high court, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just days before last year’s presidential election.
During the campaign, Biden repeatedly sidestepped questions on expanding the court. A former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden has asserted that the system of judicial nominations is “getting out of whack,” but has not said if he supports adding seats or making other changes to the current system of lifetime appointments, such as imposing term limits.
The 36-member commission, composed largely of academics, was instructed to spend 180 days studying the issues. But it was not charged with making a recommendation under the White House order that created it.
The panel will be led by Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel for former President Barack Obama, and Cristina Rodriguez, a Yale Law School professor who served in the Office of Legal Counsel for Obama.
“This is an alarming announcement from President Biden that should be met with the harshest of denunciations from both sides of the aisle,” said Mike Davis, president of the constitutionalist Article III Project. “Packing the Supreme Court would destroy centuries of hard work from Democrat- and Republican-appointed justices to insulate the high court from partisan politics. It also raises serious red flags as to what unconstitutional actions President Biden is planning that a more favorable Supreme Court might tolerate.”
The makeup of the Supreme Court, always a hot-button issue, ignited again in 2016 when Democrats declared that Republicans gained an unfair advantage by blocking Obama’s nomination of leftist Judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat left empty by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, refused to even hold hearings on filling the vacancy.
In the wake of McConnell’s power play, some progressives have viewed adding seats to the court or setting term limits as a way to offset the influence of any one president on its makeup. Conservatives, in turn, have denounced such ideas as “court-packing” similar to the failed effort by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
Earlier this week, liberal justice Stephen Breyer, the court’s oldest member, warned liberal advocates of making big changes, including expanding the number of justices. Breyer said in a speech Tuesday that advocates should think “long and hard” about what they’re proposing. Politically driven change could diminish the trust Americans place in the court, Breyer said.
The size of the court has been set at nine members since just after the Civil War. Any effort to alter it would be explosive, particularly at a moment when Congress is nearly evenly divided. Changing the number of justices would require congressional approval.
“With five justices appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, it’s crucial that we consider every option for wresting back political control of the Supreme Court,” said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal judicial advocacy group. “President Biden’s commission demonstrates a strong commitment to studying this situation and taking action.”
Biden pledged to create the commission during an October television interview.
Its launch comes amid speculation as to whether he will be able to put his own stamp on the court if Breyer retires at the end of the current term.
The 82-year-old Breyer is the oldest member of the court and the senior member of its liberal wing. A number of progressive groups have urged Breyer to retire while Democrats still control the Senate and the confirmation process.
Biden has promised to appoint the first black woman to the court.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.