WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s recently announced commission to study the Supreme Court is facing political headwinds before it convenes its first meeting, underscoring the challenge advocates for change have faced for years. Dismissed by some on the right as an effort to “pack the court” with additional justices, the 36-member group is also already drawing fire from some quarters on the left for its composition of academics, limited mandate and six-month timeline to finish its work.
“I am a little disappointed that the commission wasn’t given a mandate that says ‘come up with recommendations,'” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan group seeking term limits for justices and greater transparency at the court. “I don’t believe it’s that hard to come up with a consensus on core issues.” One of the central questions to be studied by the commission – whether to grow the size of the court – was dealt a political blow Thursday when progressives proposed legislation to increase the court to 13 justices. Republicans and conservative groups erupted and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly undercut the effort by announcing she had no intention of bringing the bill to the floor for a vote – at least for now.
Then-candidate Biden promised to name the commission as President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans rushed to confirm Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett before the election, giving conservatives a 6-3 edge at the court for the first time since the 1930s. At the time, Biden said he was “not a fan” of adding to the nine-member bench. Biden followed through last week, signing an executive order that tasks the commission with studying the “merits and legality of particular reform proposals.” The president didn’t speak about the group and the White House has so far declined to say when the commission will hold its first meeting, which starts the clock on its six-month deadline. Even with that understated rollout, conservatives pilloried the plan. Carrie Severino with the Judicial Crisis Network said the commission was intended to “reward the liberal dark money groups” and predicted anything it proposed would “fit that political agenda.”