Biden commission releases research into possible Supreme Court expansion

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s commission on the Supreme Court on Thursday released its initial findings based on months of public hearings and research, laying out arguments related to expanding the size of the court and other issues.

The documents laid out various arguments around reforming the Supreme Court but made no recommendations. The commission will meet Friday to discuss the findings and begin work on a draft report that will be discussed at a separate meeting. The group is charged with presenting a final report to Biden by mid-November.

On expanding the number of Supreme Court justices, which has become a charged political issue for Democrats and Republicans, the group said they were ultimately divided. The commission laid out a number of factors to be considered, including ways it would impact the judicial system, how the political timing would affect the court’s independence and the example it would set for other countries that could use it to justify tampering with their own judicial systems.

“As a legal matter, we conclude that Congress has broad power to structure the Supreme Court by expanding (or contracting) the number of Justices. The prudential question is more difficult, and Commissioners are divided on whether Court expansion would be wise,” the materials stated.

The group said that court expansion could “undermine, rather than enhance, the Supreme Court’s legitimacy and its role in the constitutional system, and there are significant reasons to be skeptical that expansion would serve democratic values.”

The group also detailed various scenarios for increasing the size of the court, like doing it gradually over time versus all at once, and addressed other proposed ideas like term limits and having justices associated with political parties.

Biden created the commission in April to study the number of justices on the Supreme Court along with other ways to reform the court system. He first proposed the commission when he was a presidential candidate, in response to pressure from liberals who called for adding justices following the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett and accusations by Republicans that Biden would pack the court with liberal justices if elected.

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“It’s not about court packing. There’s a number of other things that our constitutional scholars have debated, and I’d look to see what recommendations that commission might make,” Biden said as a candidate in a CBS interview.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the draft materials had not been submitted to the White House for edits or feedback.

“The commission’s purpose is to provide an analysis of the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform, including an appraisal of the merits and legality of particular reform proposals,” The White House said in April.

The panel considered topics including the court’s role in the constitutional system, the length of service and turnover of justices, the membership and size of the court and case selection, rules and practices.

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