House Speaker Nancy Pelosi poured cold water on a bill Thursday that would add four seats to the Supreme Court, saying she has “no plans” to put up the high-stakes measure for a vote.
“I don’t know that that’s a good idea or a bad idea,” Pelosi told reporters about the legislation, which was introduced in the House earlier in the day by New York Reps. Jerry Nadler and Mondaire Jones, with assistance from Rep. Hank Johnson, a fellow Democrat from Georgia.
Pelosi, whose consent is more or less mandatory for bills to move anywhere in the House, said she wanted to wait to consider Supreme Court expansion until President Biden’s newly-formed special commission produces a report on the issue later this year.
“I think it’s an idea that should be considered and I think the president’s taking the right approach to have a commission to study such a thing,” she said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks to the media, Thursday, April 15, 2021, during her weekly briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/)
Still, the powerful California Democrat didn’t completely rule out the possibility of putting more justices on the top court.
“It’s not out of the question. It has been done before in the history of our country,” Pelosi said. “But to answer your question, I have no plans to bring it to the floor.”
The Supreme Court is currently dominated 6-3 by conservative-leaning justices.
Three of the court’s members were appointed by former President Donald Trump, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whose confirmation was fast-tracked just days before the 2020 election by now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who used to claim Supreme Court vacancies shouldn’t be filled in election years.
If there were to be 13 justices, Biden would get the opportunity to flip the political balance of the top court, likely allowing him to more easily adopt sweeping reforms in health care, immigration, gun control and a range of other issues.
The likelihood of Supreme Court expansion appears slim, though, with Republicans rigidly opposed to the idea.
Pelosi’s reticence echoed remarks earlier in the day from Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the Senate and the chair of the chamber’s judiciary committee.
“I’m not ready to sign on,” Durbin told reporters.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Pool/)
Nadler, a longtime Manhattan Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he wasn’t disappointed in Pelosi and Durbin, but expressed confidence that they will eventually have a change of heart.
“Speaker Pelosi is a very good judge of events and of history and I believe that as events unfold, as the court comes down with decisions destructive to women’s rights to chose, as they come down with decisions destructive to the climate, as they come down with decisions destructive to civil liberties, I believe that Speaker Pelosi and others will come along,” Nadler said at a press conference outside the Supreme Court.
Jones, a freshman progressive who represents Westchester and Rockland Counties, was less patient and questioned the need for Biden’s Supreme Court commission.
“The damage has already been done. We don’t need a commission to tell us that we need to restore balance to the court,” Jones said.
Republicans quickly trashed the Democratic move as shameless partisan “court packing.”
“Democrats (want to) pack the court, destroy its legitimacy and guarantee the rulings that liberals want,” said McConnell.
In this file photo Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listens at a Senate Rules Committee hearing. (J. Scott Applewhite/)
Democrats have been fuming for years over Republicans’ successful effort to install right-wing judges to cement control over the high court, which exerts remarkable power in American politics.
Republicans successfully blocked then-President Barack Obama from appointing Merrick Garland when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, refusing to even grant him a hearing because McConnell claimed that year’s presidential election was too near.
In a stunning violation of his own past principle, McConnell rushed to confirm Coney Barrett after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died shortly before the 2020 election.
Durbin referenced the Garland controversy in his decision to hold off on expanding the court.
“The current situation, which I believe was influenced by the McConnell decision to keep that vacancy open until Trump could fill it, a conscious design to control the future of the court,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with that and I’ve said so. I want to make sure that our response to that is reasonable, fits in the cause of justice.”
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