The U.S. Supreme Court has been comprised of nine justices since 1869. However, some U.S. senators and presidential candidates want to change this 150-year precedent to suit their immediate political goals.
Five Democratic senators sent a letter to the Court last month urging the justices not to consider a Second Amendment challenge to a gun law in New York. Members of Congress often write letters to the Court to make arguments in particular cases, but this letter crossed a line. The senators went so far as to suggest restructuring the Court if it failed to meet their demands. This threat was a direct challenge to the independence of the Court.
This warning seems to be part of a larger pattern. Seven current Democratic candidates for president have said they would be open to adding seats to the Supreme Court in order to change its ideological balance – a practice known as “court packing.” In addition, 11 of the Democratic candidates support or would consider imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices. These short-sighted talking points are irresponsible and unnecessary.
Democracy Requires an Independent Judiciary
I signed a letter along with all of my Republican Senate colleagues in response to these efforts to improperly influence the Court. We urged the justices to rule as the law dictates and to not be “cowed by the threats of opportunistic politicians.” We also assured the Court that we would defend it from court packing and other attempts to undermine an independent judiciary.
The independence of America’s courts from political influence is one of the defining features of our system of government. The Founding Fathers understood the need for checks and balances. They gave members of the Court lifetime appointments in order to ensure justices ruled based on the law and not the political mood of the moment.
The Court has not always been right, and I have disagreed with many of its decisions. However, over the course of our history, the success of the American model of separation of powers has prevented overreach and made our democracy an example to the world.
Confirming Judges the Constitutional Way
Rather than attempting to force the Court’s hand, Republicans have worked within the constitutional system. In fact, the Senate recently confirmed the 150th federal judge appointed by President Trump. These judges have proven records of interpreting the law as written and will help shape the courts for years to come.
Democrats in Congress and those running for President may be frustrated by Republicans’ success in confirming judges, but it is no excuse to repeat the mistake of the last president who attempted to pack the Supreme Court.
In 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed legislation to increase the number of justices to as many as 15 in order to prevent a majority from ruling against the expansion of his presidential powers. Roosevelt’s proposal was deeply unpopular and was never enacted by Congress. Historians have criticized this attempted power grab as one of the worst actions by our longest-serving President.
Court packing was a bad idea then and is still a bad idea today. Those who believe in an independent judiciary will not let it happen.