Washington — President Biden's commission tasked with studying potential reforms to the Supreme Court gathered for the first time Wednesday as pressure to expand the number of seats on the high court grows following its decision to hear a blockbuster abortion dispute in its next term.
Mr. Biden formed the commission through executive order last month to examine the "contemporary commentary and debate" about the role of the high court, as well as arguments for and against Supreme Court reform, including proposals to add seats to the high court.
The 36-member commission, composed of legal scholars, retired federal judges and law professors, must submit a report to the president within 180 days of the first meeting on the functions of the high court. Bob Bauer, former White House counsel and adviser to Mr. Biden's campaign, and Cristina Rodríguez, a law professor at Yale and former deputy assistant attorney general, are co-chairing the panel.
"It's crucial that we are not just to summarize familiar arguments or rehash debates that are in academic literature or political or public commentary," Rodríguez said in opening remarks. "But instead that we are to critically evaluate arguments and claims."
In its first meeting, which lasted less than 30 minutes, the commission's members were sworn in, and they adopted its bylaws. The group also laid out its schedule and structure. Over the next six months, the panel is set to meet six times, and in its next meeting, commissioners will hear testimony about Supreme Court reform.
The president's commission will focus on five areas of research:
- The genesis of the reform debate
- The court's role in the constitutional system
- The length of service and turnover of Supreme Court
- Proposals regarding the membership and size of the court, including debates to expand it
- Issues around the Supreme Court's case selection and review, as well as docket rules and practices
Mr. Biden pledged to create a commission to look into possible changes to the Supreme Court during the 2020 presidential campaign, as calls to grow the court beyond its current nine members mounted with the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in October. Barrett's appointment to the Supreme Court by former President Trump increased its conservative majority to 6-3, and adding seats would dilute the power of the conservative justices.
The president has said he's "not a fan" of expanding the court's membership, but vowed to look into the issue of "court packing."
Democrats last month introduced legislation that would add four seats to the Supreme Court and bring the total number of justices to 13. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swiftly threw cold water on the measure, telling reporters she had "no plans" to bring the bill to the House floor.
Still, liberal activists warn the Supreme Court's decision this week to hear a case from Mississippi over the state's 15-week abortion ban, which was struck down by lower courts, underscores the need for reforms. The high court is also poised to hear next term a significant Second Amendment case over the right to carry concealed handguns outside the home.
"The Republican-appointed justices appear to be moving even quicker than analysts predicted to make good on their supermajority status. The only question is, will Democrats recognize the storm clouds that are gathering, or will they continue to dither and allow themselves to get soaked before ever reaching for an umbrella?" Brian Fallon, executive director of the liberal judicial group Demand Justice, said in a statement. "We do not have 180 days to squander on a faculty-lounge discussion to tell us what we already know: the Supreme Court is a looming threat to our democracy and in urgent need of reform."
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