Washington — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she does not intend to bring a Democratic-backed bill that would add four seats to the Supreme Court to the House floor, stalling the measure just as lawmakers were poised to formally unveil it.
"I don't know that that's a good idea or a bad idea. I think that's an idea that should be considered, and I think the president is taking the right approach to study such a thing," Pelosi told reporters of the bill to expand the nation's highest court. "It's a big step."
Pelosi said Democrats are focusing on passing President Biden's sweeping infrastructure package, and she instead backs the president's newly created commission to study reforms to the Supreme Court, including expanding its membership beyond the current nine.
"It's not out of the question," she said of adding seats to the high court. "It has been done before in the history of our country a long time ago. The growth of our country, the size of our country, the growth of our challenges in terms of the economy, etc., might necessitate such a thing. But I have no plans to bring it to the floor."
The bill from a group of House and Senate Democrats introduced Thursday would add four seats to the Supreme Court, bringing the number of justices to 13. Some Democrats and progressives have in the last year called to expand the high court as a way to dilute the power of the Supreme Court's current 6-3 conservative majority, with the pressure growing after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat just before the 2020 election.
Barrett's appointment further shifted the court's ideological makeup to the right, after former President Donald Trump named two other justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, earlier in his presidency.
Asked about the reception from Pelosi, Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who is among the lawmakers introducing the measure, said "it's imperative" the legislation be introduced.
"We begin this discussion today, but it does not end here," he said.
Congressman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, said he believes Pelosi and others will come to support expanding the Supreme Court.
While Pelosi said she does not intend to bring the legislation from her fellow Democrats to the House floor, the measure was likely also dead-on-arrival in the evenly divided Senate, where it takes 60 votes to end debate on a bill and proceed to a final vote. In addition to Republicans opposing so-called "court packing," some moderate Democrats — even some of the justices themselves — are also against growing the Supreme Court.
Justice Stephen Breyer last week said in a lecture to Harvard Law School that structural changes to the court would erode public trust in the institution, and Ginsburg, who died last year, told NPR in 2019 "nine seems to be a good number."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell excoriated Democrats for their legislation, saying in remarks on the Senate floor that they are threatening judicial independence.
"It's not just about whether this insane bill becomes law. Part of the point here are the threats themselves," he said. "The left wants a sword dangling over the justices when they weigh the facts in every case."
Skepticism toward the proposal extends to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Its chairman, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, said he doesn't support the legislation to add four seats to the Supreme Court "at this point," but said the conversation should begin. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut suggested lawmakers "should view with great caution any effort to expand the number of justices."
Mr. Biden, too, said last year he is "not a fan" of expanding the Supreme Court, though he vowed during the 2020 campaign to study the issue.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say whether the president supports Democrats' legislation, adding that he will instead wait for his commission to issue its report on the high court.
"The president believes that it's important to take a look at a range of points of view, whether they are progressive or conservative, different sets of legal opinions, and he looks forward to assessing that himself," she said, noting that Mr. Biden wants to hear from the group.