Biden commission on Supreme Court reform is split on adding justices

1 month ago

A bipartisan White House commission agreed that Congress has the legal power to expand the Supreme Court — but the group was divided on whether lawmakers should actually do it.

That's according to draft "discussion materials" released Thursday by the White House, which tasked 30-odd experts with considering an array of possible reforms to the nine-member high court.

The draft materials came out as the court, facing all-time low approval ratings, is set this term to deliver rulings in pivotal cases that center on politically polarizing issues, including abortion, guns and religion.

A growing chorus of critics — especially those furious with the tactics used by Republicans to appoint the three most recent justices — have called to expand the size of the bench. Proponents include former presidential candidates and Cabinet members.

Some of the commissioners agree with the pro-expansion arguments, "at least in part," the draft materials said. But other commissioners concluded that adding seats "is likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the Supreme Court's legitimacy and its role in the constitutional system," the commission wrote.

"There are significant reasons to be skeptical that expansion would serve democratic values," the commission added. "We also raise some tentative concerns about how expansion of the Supreme Court might be received in the broader domestic and international community."

President Joe Biden created the commission via executive order in April, assembling a bipartisan panel of scholars, lawyers, advocates and former judges to probe arguments for and against reforming the high court.

The commission is set to hold a public meeting Friday, starting at 10 a.m. ET.

The group also discussed a number of other broad topics of reform, including disempowering the court or imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices, who currently enjoy lifetime appointments.

The latter issue has been at the center of some of the recent controversies surrounding the court. Progressives, for instance, want liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, the court's oldest member, to resign and be replaced with a likeminded successor by Biden before the 2022 midterms, when Democrats' razor-thin congressional majorities are under threat.