President Biden's formation of a commission to study Supreme Court expansion was widely denounced among conservative legal experts over the weekend, who called it a "dangerous" effort to do something that hasn't been done in more than 150 years.
Biden signed an executive order Friday establishing a 36-member commission to study various Supreme Court reform proposals, including the adding of seats.
The number of seats hasn't changed since 1869 when it was expanded from seven to nine.
Some of Biden's supporters favor expanding the court's size to give him the opportunity to counter the body's conservative tilt. Six of the nine justices were nominated by Republicans. President Trump nominated three of the nine justices – the most by any president in one term since President Nixon.
"Preserving the independence of the judiciary is essential to preserving our constitutional democracy," said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the First Liberty Institute, an organization dedicated to defending religious liberty. "As Democrats have said, changing the court is a 'needless, futile, and utterly dangerous abandonment of constitutional principle.' This is an attempt by the Radical Left to politicize the Supreme Court to advance their political ideology. The last thing we need in this country right now is a Supreme Court coup."
The National Review's Jim Geraghty argued in a Friday column that Biden, "deep down," wants to avoid the issue.
"If a president wants to enact a particular proposal ... he enacts a particular proposal," Geraghty wrote. "He doesn't sit and wait another six months for some blue-ribbon commission to look at and write up a report about what they think. Presidents kick thorny, complicated issues to bipartisan blue-ribbon commissions because they either don't want to deal with it, genuinely don't know what to do, or want political cover for a decision they know will be unpopular."
Even Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a member of the court's liberal bloc, criticized court-packing in a speech last week, although his comments were made prior to Biden's executive order. Breyer was nominated by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
"It is wrong to think of the Court as another political institution," Breyer said. "And it is doubly wrong to think of its members as junior league politicians."
People "whose initial instincts may favor important structural … changes, such as … court-packing" should "think long and hard before embodying those changes in law," Breyer said.
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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.