Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of Congress introduced legislation to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices on Thursday.
Advocates say the measure is needed to rebalance the Court and shift power from conservative justices who pose a threat to voting rights. House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) are the lead sponsors.
The legislation is likely a reflection of progressive disappointment with President Joe Biden’s commission to study judicial reforms, which was chartered last week. Though Biden appointed leftwing court-packing advocates to the panel, he also included a number of judicial conservatives and Democratic legal elites. It’s uncertain whether the commission will propose sweeping changes.
The bill’s prospects are dim for the time being. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Thursday that she does not support the bill and will not bring it to the floor. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D, Ill.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said he’s not ready to sign on to a court-packing bill and wants to see what Biden’s Court commission suggests.
Durbin said, however, that he shares progressive frustrations at the way Republicans handled judicial confirmations. “I want to make sure that my response to that is reasonable, fits into the cause of justice,” Durbin told CNN.
In addition to unenthused Democratic leadership, the proposal is a potential target for the Senate filibuster. Advocates would have to shake loose at least 10 Republican votes to bring the bill to a vote.
Congressional Republicans were united in denouncing the bill. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, launched a national campaign condemning the proposal, backed by a $1 million ad buy.
Apart from “rebalancing,” Nadler said the bill is a necessary administrative measure, given the federal judiciary’s growing caseload.
“Nine justices may have made sense in the nineteenth century when there were only nine circuits, and many of our most important federal laws—covering everything from civil rights, to antitrust, the internet, financial regulation, health care, immigration, and white collar crime—simply did not exist, and did not require adjudication by the