Judges would be added to the nine-member Supreme Court under a major proposal released Thursday as part of a draft by a committee appointed by President Biden.
The Supreme Court Commission, created by decree in April, is expected to release its final report next month.
But on Thursday, committee members noted that their “important proposal would increase the number of judges sitting on the tribunal.”
“Other proposals suggest reorganizing the composition of the court,” read the discussion papers released Thursday evening.
Another would set term limits for judges, who are currently appointed for life under the Constitution, and “set the intervals” for appointments to the High Court, the commission document said.
The last president to attempt to add judges to the High Court was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937, but even the predominantly Democratic Congress opposed it.
The High Court has had nine judges since 1869. Prior to that, it fluctuated from five to 10 judges.
The Constitution does not set a number of judges, but any expansion would have to go through Congress.
Given the 50-50 split of parties in the Senate and a 60-vote threshold to pass most laws, a bill to add judges is unlikely to pass.
The commission was optimistic about the term limits for judges, saying the idea would enjoy more bipartisan support in Congress. However, Congress is divided over whether the term limits would be constitutional.
This raised concerns among panel members, according to the report. Those who oppose term limits fear that the judges themselves will have to decide whether such a proposal is constitutional, raising fears that any ruling will undermine the court’s legitimacy.
But panelists who endorsed the idea dismissed the concerns as “exaggerated”, saying they do not pose a threat to the court’s legitimacy compared to other issues it has faced over the years. .
“Some commissioners believe term limits represent a well-calibrated solution to this problem and will help the tribunal defend our democracy against actual or potential regression,” the panel said.
The commission is made up of liberal and centrist members who are expected to issue a final report on November 14 recommending changes to the High Court.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that Mr Biden would not comment on the report until the final draft was submitted to him in November and had a chance to review it.
Ms Psaki on Thursday downplayed the importance of the draft, calling it “assessment, not recommendation.”
Carrie Severino, chief advisor to the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, said the commission had so far cast “cold water” on the idea of packing in court.
“The left-wing black money groups that helped elect Joe Biden to lead this court-building effort will not stop because of what a commission says,” she said. “On the contrary, they will seriously continue their campaign to prohibit taking prisoners to intimidate the court until it offers the liberal political preferences they demand.”
Alliance for Justice, a liberal rights group, called the report “an important step towards delivering the reforms we desperately need.”
“From green light to Texas abortion ban to eviction from voting rights law and blocking the moratorium on evictions as COVID rises, it’s clear this court is moving a dangerous agenda forward . Only democracy can save this tribunal, and the commission’s report will help raise awareness that reform is not only possible, but necessary, ”said Rakim Brooks, president of Alliance for Justice.
Mr Biden’s commission was created amid recent calls by the Liberals to pack the Supreme Court, resulting from anger that the Tories hold a 6-3 majority on the bench after the death of Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg l ‘last year.
Progressives grew increasingly angry with the Supreme Court during former President Trump’s four-year tenure, in which he made three appointments – Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
The proposed changes come as the Supreme Court recently hit its lowest approval rating among registered voters in a Quinnipiac University poll released last month.
Fifty percent of registered voters gave the High Court a negative approval rating, while 37% approved the judges’ work. Thirteen percent did not express an opinion.
This is the lowest job approval the High Court has received since Quinnipiac University began asking people about the Supreme Court’s work in 2004.
The High Court is also expected to hear several politically charged questions this term, weighing the future of abortion rights in Roe v. Wade and the limits a state may place on the right to carry a firearm outside the home.
The presidential commission has held three public meetings since its inception, hearing from a number of legal scholars on the impact of adding judges to the Supreme Court or limiting the number of years a judge can sit.
The panel has another meeting scheduled for Friday, which is expected to last around seven hours.
During their lengthy meetings, legal experts on both sides of the aisle testified on various changes to the High Court and whether any changes would make the court more or less political.