Schumer Awaiting Panel’s Recommendation before Taking Stance on Court-Packing

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) looks on during his speech about the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and other issues at a weekly news conference after the Senate Democrat Policy luncheon in Washington, D.C., April 20, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) will not say whether he supports court-packing until he has received a recommendation on the issue from a bipartisan commission that President Biden has tasked with studying potential changes to the Supreme Court. 

“Look, the bottom line is that I’m waiting to hear what President Biden’s commission says about the Supreme Court, and they’re going to look at many different aspects,” Schumer said Tuesday.

The Senate majority leader’s comments come after Democratic lawmakers unveiled legislation earlier this month to expand the Supreme Court from nine justices to 13.

Senator Ed Markey (D., Mass.) is sponsoring the Judiciary Act in the Senate, while Representatives Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), Mondaire Jones (D., N.Y.) and Hank Johnson (D., Ga.) will serve as its advocates in the House.

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While Schumer is remaining neutral, other Democrats have come out against the bill, including Senator Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) who recently told Politico, “I don’t think the American public is interested in having the Supreme Court expanded.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) says she has “no intention to bring” Nadler’s bill to the House floor.

The legislation is the culmination of months of pressure from left-wing members of the party to do so after Republicans moved to quickly confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett just weeks before the election last fall.

Shortly after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg created a vacancy on the court in September, Schumer himself painted a dire picture of the political climate should Republicans move forward with filling her seat on the court, saying the move would take the Senate down a “dangerous path.”

“I worry for the future of this chamber if the Republican majority proceeds down this dangerous path. If a Senate majority over the course of six years steals two Supreme Court seats using completely contradictory rationales, how could we expect to trust the other side again?” he said at the time. 

“If, when push comes to shove, when the stakes are the highest, the other side will double-cross their own standards when it’s politically advantageous, tell me how this would not spell the end of this supposedly great deliberative body, because I don’t see how,” he continued.

However, despite repeated calls from progressives to expand the court to supersede the 6-3 conservative majority, Biden repeatedly dodged questions regarding his stance on expanding the Supreme Court and instead promised to form a bipartisan commission.

The 36-member panel will perform a 180-day study of potential changes to the Supreme Court, including court-packing and setting term limits for justices. As the commission is not set to issue specific guidance at the conclusion of its study, it remains to be seen if the panel will ultimately clarify Biden’s stance on the issue.

Yet even Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal, cautioned earlier this month that court-packing for political gain could undermine public trust in the court and its decisions.

“I hope and expect that the court will retain its authority,” Breyer said. “But that authority, like the rule of law, depends on trust, a trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics. Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that perception, further eroding that trust.”

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