On Friday, President Biden signed an executive order establishing a commission to study Supreme Court reform, fulfilling a campaign promise he made to examine various reform proposals, including adding seats.
The White House says the 36-member commission will be co-chaired by New York University School of Law professor Bob Bauer and Yale Law School professor Cristina Rodriguez, with a report due within 180 days of its first meeting. The White House says the commission is bipartisan.
Debate over the Supreme Court intensified last year, when liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, allowing President Trump to replace her with Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who is thought to be considerably more conservative.
Some Democrats and liberal groups favor adding seats to the nine-member court – an action opponents have called "court-packing." Such an expanded court presumably could overturn some of the court's conservative opinions from recent years.
Six of the nine justices were nominated by Republicans. Trump nominated three justices, the most by any president in one term since President Nixon.
The executive order says the commission's report must include three primary subjects:
- "An account of the contemporary commentary and debate about the role and operation of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system and about the functioning of the constitutional process by which the President nominates and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints Justices to the Supreme Court."
- "The historical background of other periods in the Nation's history when the Supreme Court's role and the nominations and advice-and-consent process were subject to critical assessment and prompted proposals for reform."
- "An analysis of the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform, including an appraisal of the merits and legality of particular reform proposals."
Although the executive order does not mention the court's size among the subjects that must be studied, the White House said in a separate release that the commission will examine the membership and size of the court, the court's "role in the Constitutional system," the length of service of justices, and the court's "case selection, rules, and practices."
The 36 members include those who are "distinguished constitutional scholars, retired members of the Federal judiciary" or who have "experience with and knowledge of" the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court, the executive order says.
GOP Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) on Friday labeled it the "court-packing commission."
"President Biden knows that he doesn't even have the votes in his own party to pack the court; he knows that court-packing is a non-starter with the American people; and he knows that this commission's report is just going to be a taxpayer-funded door stopper," Sasse said. "What the President doesn't have is the courage to come out and flatly tell the radical left that he's not going to pack the Supreme Court."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.