WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats will introduce legislation Thursday to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices, alongside progressive activists pushing to transform the high court.
The move intensifies a high-stakes ideological fight over the future of the court after former President Donald Trump and Republicans appointed three conservative justices in four years, including one who was confirmed days before the 2020 election.
The Democratic bill is led by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts in the Senate, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, in the House. It is cosponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York.
The Supreme Court can be expanded by an act of Congress, but the legislation is highly unlikely to become law in the near future given Democrats’ slim majorities, which include scores of lawmakers who are not on board with the idea, and a sitting president in Joe Biden who has said he’s “not a fan” of packing the court.
But it represents an undercurrent of progressive fury at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for denying a vote in 2016 to then-President Barack Obama’s pick to fill a vacancy, citing an election year, before confirming Trump nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the week before the 2020 election.
That anger has taken hold within the Democratic Party, and this new push indicates that it has not dissipated in an era where the party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.
The lawmakers, who intend to introducing the bill in front of the court, will be joined by progressive activists Aaron Belkin, who leads Take Back The Court; Chris Kang, the co-founder and chief counsel of Demand Justice, and Meagan Hatcher-Mays of Indivisible, according to an advisory. All three groups advocate for adding justices.
“This bill marks a new era where Democrats finally stop conceding the Supreme Court to Republicans,” said Brian Fallon, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide and co-founder of reformDemand Justice, describing the court as “broken and in need of reform.”
“Our task now is to build a grassroots movement that puts pressure on every Democrat in Congress to support this legislation because it is the only way to restore balance to the Court and protect our democracy,” he said.
Last week, Biden announced the formation of a commission consisting of liberal and conservative voices to study the structure of the Supreme Court, including length of service and number of justices.
The size of the Supreme Court has fluctuated since it was established in 1789, but has remained at nine since 1869.
McConnell has strenuously warned Democrats not to add seats to the court, saying that there is “nothing about the structure or operation of the judicial branch that requires ‘study.’”
“President Biden campaigned on a promise of lowering the temperature and uniting a divided nation,” McConnell said in a statement last week. “If he really meant it, he would stop giving oxygen to a dangerous, antiquated idea and stand up to the partisans hawking it.”