Pro­gres­sives keep push­ing Bi­den to ex­pand court

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - FRONT PAGE - By Wil­lWeis­sert and Cheyan­neMumphrey

WASH­ING­TON » Since Joe Bi­den ran away with the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in March, lead­ing pro­gres­sives have ac­cepted him, some­times grudg­ingly, as their party’s leader. But in the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign, the Supreme Court va­cancy is threat­en­ing to in­flame old di­vides.

Some ac­tivists on the left are press­ing Bi­den to en­dorse ex­pand­ing the num­ber of high court jus­tices should he win the White House and Democrats take con­trol of the Se­nate. But Bi­den, who ran a rel­a­tively cen­trist pri­mary cam­paign, hasn’t em­braced those calls, wor­ried they may in­ten­sify the na­tion’s par­ti­san split.

There is lit­tle in­di­ca­tion that large swaths of pro­gres­sives will aban­don Bi­den or back third-party can­di­dates, moves that wounded Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 2016 bid. But ac­tivists in­sist they will keep pres­sure on Bi­den to pur­sue dra­matic re­forms to the Supreme Court if Repub­li­cans move for­ward with their plan to quickly ap­prove Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pick to re­place the late Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg.

“The ma­jor­ity of Berniecrat­s will most likely vote for Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den,” said Nina Turner, a for­mer Ohio state se­na­tor and top ad­viser to pro­gres­sive Sen. Bernie San­ders’ 2016 and 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns. “That doesn’t mean that they are not go­ing to raise hell all the­way.”

“Bi­den should make it clear that he will fight back by ex­pand­ing the court if he wins,” said Turner, who is found­ing a firm to ad­vance pro­gres­sive causes, Amare Pub­lic Af­fairs.

The Con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t man­date the num­ber of Supreme Court jus­tices, which has changed over time. In 1937, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt pro­moted leg­is­la­tion to “pack the court” by ex­pand­ing its num­ber of jus­tices, an ef­fort that stalled once the jus­tices be­gan to rule in his fa­vor on poli­cies tied to the New Deal.

Since then, the makeup of the court hasn’t been a prom­i­nent is­sue in na­tional pol­i­tics. That be­gan to change af­ter Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh’s con­tentious 2018 nom­i­na­tion fight. Calls to add jus­tices grew much louder this week in re­sponse to the GOP’s rush to fill Gins­burg’s seat be­fore the elec­tion, which would leave the court with six con­ser­va­tives and three lib­er­als.

“The pol­i­tics of this are mov­ing very, very fast,” said Aaron Belkin, di­rec­tor of Take Back the Court, which ad­vo­cates for in­creas­ing the num­ber of jus­tices. “And un­der a Bi­den ad­min­is­tra­tion, when the court has the ad­min­is­tra­tion hand­cuffed on Day One, I think the pol­i­tics are go­ing to be chang­ing even more quickly.”

That puts Bi­den in a tough spot. Over 36 years in the Se­nate, he built a ca­reer rever­ing Wash­ing­ton’ s in­sti­tu­tions. Dur­ing the 2020 pri­mary, he pointed ly de­clined to join ri­vals such as Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren or Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, who is now his run­ning­mate, in be­ing open to court ex­pan­sion.

Dur­ing his first ex­tended com­ments Sun­day about Gins­burg’s death, Bi­den ap­pealed to the few re­main­ing mod­er­ate Se­nate Repub­li­cans to buck their party’s lead­er­ship, rather than to pro­gres­sives look­ing for himto sup­port larger court.

Since then, Bi­den has largely sought to avoid the is­sue as he has cam­paigned in bat­tle­ground states, pre­fer­ring in­stead to fo­cus on Trump’s han­dling of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and high un­em­ploy­ment. He ducked a ques­tion about changes to the court dur­ing an in­ter­view with a Wis­con­sin tele­vi­sion sta­tion, say­ing a re­sponse would“shift all the fo­cus.”

Bi­den has also said Democrats should con­cen­trate on mak­ing it clear for vot­ers why the GOP push to quickly fill Gins­burg’s seat is a “gi­gan­tic mis­take and abuse of power.”

Some pro­gres­sives said Gins­burg’s death laid bare why they are­back­ingBi­den.

“Vot­ing for Joe Bi­den is not about whether you agree­with­him. It’s a vote to let our democ­racy live another day,” Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez said on In­sta­gram last week.

The New York con­gress­woman spent months ex­press­ing skepticism to­ward Bi­den but also was co-leader of a task force on cli­mate change that top Bi­den sup­port­ers and ad­vis­ers formed­with their coun­ter­parts from San­ders’ un­suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to try to bet­ter reach con­sen­sus on top is­sues.

Those groups made pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions that helped shape the Demo­cratic Party plat­form, which was adopted at its na­tional con­ven­tion last month and was meant to avoid the ide­o­log­i­cal clashes that Clin­ton en­dured four years ago.

San­ders, who op­poses Supreme Court ex­pan­sion, and War­ren, who has sug­gested she would be will­ing to sup­port it, have sim­i­larly used Gins­burg’s death as a ral­ly­ing cry for Bi­den.

“Democ­racy as we know it is in dan­ger,” War­ren said at a vir­tual event with Vir­ginia lead­ers, call­ing Repub­li­can court ef­forts “the last gasp of a des­per­ate party that is over­rep­re­sented in the hall of power.”

Dur­ing a speech Thurs­day, San­ders warned that Trump is openly sug­gest­ing that he will brand as il­le­git­i­mate any elec­tion he loses. He cited “the dan­ger that this coun­try faces from a pres­i­dent who is a patho­log­i­cal liar, who has strong au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies, who nei­ther un­der­stands nor re­spects our Con­sti­tu­tion and who is pre­pared to un­der­mine Amer­i­can democ­racy in or­der to stay in power.”

The vot­ing re­sults­may be dis­puted and trig­ger a le­gal fight, San­ders said, not­ing that Trump “is at­tempt­ing to push through a Supreme Court jus­tice­whomay very well cast a vote in a case that will de­ter­mine the out­come of this elec­tion.”

Rather than men­tion­ing ex­pand­ing the Supreme Court, San­ders said the way to counter that is to have the largest voter turnout in U.S. his­tory.

“This is not just an elec­tion be­tween Don­ald Trump and Joe Bi­den,” San­ders said. “This is an elec­tion be­tween Don­ald Trump and democ­racy — and democ­racy must win.”


Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den has steered clear of the is­sue of pack­ing the Supreme Court. Some ac­tivists want his to com­mit to do­ing so.

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