Joe Biden has largely evaded the question of whether, if elected president, he would support the so-called “packing” of the Supreme Court. At the first presidential debate, the Democrat did not offer a clear response to the question of whether he supported adding justices to the nine-member high court. Nor did his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, when asked a similar question at the vice presidential debate.
But in a 60 Minutes interview that will air Sunday, Biden gives a substantial response to the question for the first time. While he does not emphatically support packing the court with additional liberal judges, he proposes assembling a bipartisan panel of experts to consider a wide range of potential reforms to a court system he says is “out of whack.”
Packing the Court
The idea of packing the Supreme Court has gained traction in the month following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After the liberal icon’s death, President Trump immediately seized the opportunity to nominate yet another conservative jurist to the nation’s highest court.
Liberals, who feel helpless against a Republican Senate majority that already has the votes to confirm the conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, have turned to other means to fix the politicization of the judicial branch. Currently, nine justices serve lifelong appointments on the Supreme Court, but the Constitution does not actually mandate that number. Adding seats to the nation’s highest court only requires an act of Congress and the approval of the president.
Asked a few weeks ago whether Senate Democrats would move to expand the court in order to restore a liberal majority, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said “we’re not taking anything off the table.” But as the Democratic candidate for president, Biden is now saying that he would like to consider a “range of reforms.”
In that pre-released excerpt from his 60 Minutes interview, Biden said,
“I’ll put together a national commission of scholars—constitutional scholars—Democrats, Republicans, liberal, conservative. And I will ask them to, over 180 days, come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it’s getting out of whack.”
But asked by interviewer Norah O’Donnell whether he would seek to expand the Supreme Court, Biden replied that the commission’s consideration should “go well beyond packing.” At the heart of his position is the need to decrease the political nature of the judiciary, which ought to objectively interpret and apply the law, not legislate it. But in recent years, appointments to the court have become a key campaign issue for both Democratic and Republican candidates. In 2020, as in 2016, leaders from both parties have used the potential to place an ideological justice on the Court as a means to gain voter support.
“The last thing we need to do is turn the Supreme Court into just a political football, [where] whoever has the most votes gets whatever they want,” Biden says in the interview. “Presidents come and go. Supreme Court justices stay for generations.”