Pelosi knocks back bid to increase judges on US Supreme Court
Nancy Pelosi, The Democrat speaker of the US House of Congress, dealt a blow to the party’s liberal wing yesterday by knocking back a proposal to expand the Supreme Court.
A bill was presented to Congress which would expand the court from nine justices to 13, in a move backed by progressive activists pushing to wipe out the Republicans’ ability to govern with popular minority.
“Republicans stole the court’s majority,” said Edward Markey, a Democrat senator, in a statement announcing the proposal, adding that they had “undermined its legitimacy” and were threatening the “rights of millions of Americans”.
Pelosi said in a press conference that expanding the court was “an idea that should be considered” and “is not out of the question” but she said she had no plans to bring the current proposal to the floor, effectively knocking it down at the first hurdle.
Instead, she said she supported President Joe Biden’s decision to form a special commission to investigate the issue, calling it “a big step”.
The number of Supreme Court justices has remained at nine since 1869, but Congress has the power to change the number and had done so several times before that.
Republicans oppose the idea of what is sometimes called “court packing”.
Some Democrats and liberal activists have said all options including expansion must be considered to counter an entrenched conservative majority that could threaten voting rights, abortion rights, civil rights, gun control and access to healthcare in the coming years.
Currently, Supreme Court justices have life tenure which means they can serve the court until they die, resign, retire or are impeached and removed from the office.
Donald Trump, the Republican former president, was able to appoint three justices during his four years in office, giving the court a six-three conservative majority.
Some appointments sparked huge controversy, including that of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of, and denied, allegations of sexual assault, and Amy Coney Barrett, who took up the role during the November US election campaign period.
Her appointment was rushed through in what Chuck Schumer, a Democrat senator, called “the most illegitimate process I have ever witnessed in the Senate”.
Republican lawmakers were pleased by Pelosi’s refusal to take up court expansion, having expressed their displeasure at the legislation when it was introduced.
“Packing the court is an act of arrogant lawlessness,” said Mike Lee, a Utah senator.
“Those behind this effort spit in the face of judicial independence.”