A group of progressive Democrats in the US Congress are targeting former President Donald Trump’s legacy of appointing three conservative justices to the US Supreme Court by proposing to expand the high court from nine to 13 justices.
The legislative proposal, announced on Thursday, would allow new President Joe Biden to nominate four justices who would swing the court’s present 6-3 conservative majority towards the middle.
“The United States Supreme Court is broken. It is out of balance, and it needs to be fixed,” said Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat.
The American public views the court as a “partisan political institution, not as our impartial judicial branch of government”, Markey said at a news conference to introduce the “Judiciary Act of 2021” to expand the court.
The bill faces an uphill climb in Congress where the House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi refrained on Thursday from giving it her backing. Pelosi, the top House Democrat, holds sway over what bills get brought up for debate and votes.
President Joe Biden also has been cool to the idea of expanding the court. Last week Biden ordered the establishment of a bipartisan commission to study potential reforms to the Supreme Court including expanding the number justices and imposing term limits instead of lifetime appointments.
But the idea is popular among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The House version of the bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Hank Johnson and Mondaire Jones.
It gained new currency last year when President Trump and Republicans who controlled the US Senate hurriedly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative, to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal.
With Republicans in control of the Senate during his term, Trump nominated and the Senate confirmed Justices Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh after a bitter battle in 2018.
Democrats have been crying foul since 2016 when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee. A powerful political move by Republicans, it left open a vacancy that Trump filled with Gorsuch.
“It is going to become clear as decision after decision is issued by the Supreme Court, there needs to be a historic balance which is restored,” Markey said, predicting support would grow over time for his bill to expand the court.
Republicans in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between the two US parties, are opposed to the Democratic proposal to expand the court which they have denounced as a “court packing” exercise.