Democratic presidential candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke said he is open to adding seats on the Supreme Court during a Thursday campaign stop.
Speaking at a coffee shop in Burlington, Iowa, O’Rourke said adding six seats to the high court could curb political dysfunction.
“What if there were five justices selected by Democrats, five justices selected by Republicans, and those ten then picked five more justices independent of those who chose the first ten?” O’Rourke said, invoking a reform proposal that has gained currency in recent weeks. “I think that’s an idea that we should explore.”
“The Court should be able to reflect the diversity that we are composed of in this country,” he added. He also said imposing term limits would ensure a “regular rotation” of justices.
“Court-packing” has emerged from the political peripheries and gained serious traction in the Democratic presidential primary. Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who are both seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, have expressed openness to court-packing in various forms.
Progressive organizers, Democratic operatives, and left-leaning law professors have founded activist groups like Pack the Courts and Demand Justice to promote structural reforms to the judiciary.
The proposal has a serious historical albatross: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought authority to install as many as six additional justices in 1937, after the Court’s conservative majority undid much of his economic program. Roosevelt’s plan was rebuked by Congress, the public and the Court itself. Justice Louis Brandeis, a liberal icon, signed a letter from Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes denouncing the effort.
The Constitution does not establish a set number of seats for the Supreme Court. The number of justices has fluctuated from six to ten, though the figure has been set at nine since enactment of the Judiciary Act in 1869. Article III of the Constitution gives Congress significant discretion
The Senate has confirmed over 90 Trump judicial nominees since 2017, including Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. It’s most recent confirmation came Wednesday with the installation of Judge Neomi Rao on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
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