Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the mounting Democrat calls to expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court following the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett are nothing new and called them the “same old threats and intimidation by the hard left.”
“They’ve been threatening to pack the court [since] before the [Amy Coney] Barrett nomination came along [and] before Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg passed away,” McConnell told Fox News in an interview on Monday. “These are long-standing threats.”
The Senate late Monday voted 52-48 for Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. The vote was largely along party lines, with no Democrat voting for the confirmation. Barrett was subsequently sworn in later Monday by Justice Clarence Thomas.
Calls to pack the Supreme Court came swiftly, with members of “The Squad,” four radically progressive Democrat representatives, all tweeting in support of expanding the number of seats on the nation’s highest court.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) retweeted a tweet by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), each containing the same message: “Expand the court.” Omar, in a follow-up tweet, wrote: “Remember that Republicans have lost six of the last seven popular votes, but have appointed six of the last nine justices. By expanding the court we fix this broken system and have the court better represent the values of the American people.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) wrote in a tweet, “We must expand the court if we’re serious about the transformational change the people are crying out for,” while Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) retweeted a video from an organization calling for federal court reform, including adding four seats to the Supreme Court and creating term limits for Supreme Court justices.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Monday ruled out the idea of imposing term limits on U.S. Supreme Court justices but raised the possibility of rotating justices off the bench to other courts. His comments came after he announced during a “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday night that if elected, he would form a “bipartisan commission” to study the federal court system and put forward recommendations for reform.
McConnell told Fox News that while calls to pack the Supreme Court have become louder lately, the proposal has been around for some time.
“They may have ratcheted up a little bit lately, but this isn’t anything new,” McConnell said. “They’ve been promising to blow up the Senate by changing the filibuster rule, admitting two new states—[Washington] D.C. and Puerto Rico—to give them four new Democratic senators … They were talking about that earlier in the year. Nothing new, same old threats and intimidation by the hard left,” he added.
Biden has left his options open on expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court, avoiding committing to a position in interviews. He said on Oct. 16 at an ABC town hall that he would make his position clear on court packing before Election Day, depending on how Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation is handled. On Sunday with “60 Minutes,” Biden didn’t explicitly say whether he was against or in favor of packing the court.
Some Democrats have since September threatened to pack the Supreme Court if they regain control of the Senate and White House in the upcoming election, saying that their effort would aim to balance the ideological makeup of a bench that, by design, is to be independent of the legislative branch.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote in a statement: “Mitch McConnell set the precedent. No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year. If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court.”
Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) also wrote that if McConnell “holds a vote in 2020 … we pack the court in 2021. It’s that simple.”
Republicans have called the idea to pack the courts radical and something that goes against the principles of democracy. Some Democrats have feared it could backfire, as if the Republicans gain both chambers of Congress and the presidency, they could add their own judges.
The U.S. Constitution does not require that nine justices sit on the Supreme Court, although that number has stood for more than a century. The size of the top court has been changed several times between the founding of the republic and the Civil War in the mid-19th century.
Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this report.