WASHINGTON — A group of Senate Republicans held a press conference Wednesday to discuss what they termed the “Democrats’ court packing plan,” advocating for a constitutional amendment that would permanently limit the Supreme Court of the United States to nine justices.
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) voiced their support for a piece of legislation first introduced by Rubio in March 2019.
“To prevent the delegitimizing of the Supreme Court, I am introducing a constitutional amendment to keep the number of seats at nine,” Rubio wrote in a press release introducing the amendment last year. “Our institutions matter. Our Constitution matters. And we should fight to protect them.”
During Wednesday's press conference, Rubio stressed that the legislation has been in the works for over a year — but in light of recent indications from Democrats that they may consider increasing the number of Supreme Court justices, the amendment is more important than ever, Rubio said.
“Multiple candidates refuse to take a position on this issue,” Rubio said of Democratic candidates who demurred on the question of packing the court with liberal justices.
“It cannot be that we decide to change the number of people on the court every time the outcome that you're getting from the courts does not favor your particular policy preference,” Rubio added. “Because that’s not the purpose of the court.”
The press conference came less than a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced the Senate will vote to confirm President Trump's nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 26.
Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court is highly contentious, as Democrats claim the winner of the upcoming election should appoint the next justice.
Senate Republicans, who are aiming to push through Barrett’s nomination as quickly as possible, claim Democrats will propose legislation to expand the number of Supreme Court justices as retribution for Barrett’s confirmation.
Several of the Senators participating in Wednesday's press conference alleged the possible expansion of the court is part of a “radical far-left agenda” put forward by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to pack a future Supreme Court with liberal justices that would employ activism from the bench.
“(Democrats) want to establish a super legislature,” Sen. Ernst said of Democrats’ alleged plan to pack the Supreme Court with liberal justices. “We all should be very afraid of that. This is our third branch of government, our judicial system is at risk.”
Schumer dismissed the idea of court packing earlier this month on MSNBC, saying Republicans are continuing to look for “smoke screens” to distract Americans from bigger issues at stake.
“This idea that Democrats are packing the Court, (Republicans) have already done it,” Schumer said of the GOP’s proposed legislation. “As for ourselves, what I have said is we are going to win the election, god willing... And then everything will be on the table, that’s all. But we are not going to fall into the trap of debating that now after what they have done and when there are so many substantive issues at stake that the American people care about.”
Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden has said he’s “not a fan” of expanding the Supreme Court, but also believes Republicans are violating the spirit of the Constitution with a confirmation process while people are already voting in the presidential election.
“Court-packing is going on now,” Biden told WKRC-TV in Cincinnati in mid-October. “Never before, when an election has already begun and millions of votes already cast, has it ever been that a Supreme Court nominee was put forward. And one of the reasons is the only shot the American people get to determine who will be on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court or federal court is when they pick their senator or their president.”.
During Wednesday's press conference, Sen. Sasse cited growing concerns that Democrats may also introduce legislation to end the Senate filibuster as reason to pass Rubio’s amendment.
“This act that Senator Schumer, if he would become the Majority Leader, wants to advance is really to nuke two of three branches of government,” Sasse said of ending the filibuster. “The idea of nuking the senate, ending its deliberative structure, for the purposes of nuking the supreme court is a much bigger deal than is being publicly understood right now.”
With the race to election day heading into its final stretch, there are concerns among some Republicans that Democrats may gain control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives for the first time since 2009.
Should this be the case, Republicans would likely still hold enough seats in the Senate to block a Biden administration’s progressive agenda using one legislative tool: the filibuster.
The filibuster is a tactic employed by senators who wish to block or delay a vote on a proposal by extending debate on the floor. Under filibuster rules, a senator or group of senators may speak on any topic, and for as long as they choose, until and unless three-fifths of the senate (equivalent to 60 senators) vote to close the debate.
If they so choose, Senate Democrats could “nuke” the future of the filibuster with a simple majority vote of 51 to 49 — a change that would severely dampen Republicans’ power under a liberal government.
Calls to abolish the filibuster gained traction over the summer after former President Barack Obama publicly condemned the practice during an address at Congressman John Lewis’ funeral, calling the filibuster “another Jim Crow relic.”
In July, Schumer told reporters that “nothing’s off the table” if Democrats defeat President Donald Trump and take back the Senate in 2020. However, the New York Democrat cautioned that before removing the filibuster for legislation, “our first step is to get back the majority” of the Senate, where Democrats currently control 47 votes to the GOP’s 53 votes.