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Congressional Democrats Announce New Bill to Add Four Justices to Supreme Court

From left, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., hold a news conference outside the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Democrats are pushing a new bill in Congress that would pack the Supreme Court. They unveiled the measure Thursday in a news conference at the steps of the High Court.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., appeared to announce their legislation that would increase the number of justices to 13 from the current nine.

The website theintercept.com reports the proposal has sponsors in both the House and Senate. But the bill will face tough opposition to pass both houses of Congress. In order for the measure to pass, Democrats would have to get rid of the filibuster that requires 60 votes to pass in the Senate. 

At her weekly press conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she has no plans to have the full House vote on the new bill, but she thinks "it's an idea that should be considered."

The move comes after President Biden announced a commission to study the federal courts. Progressive activists have been pushing for Democrats to pack the court by adding more justices who would support liberal policies.

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Republicans quickly attacked the move and the idea hasn't been popular.  A New York Times - Sienna College poll last October found that 58 percent oppose increasing the size of the court, while only 31 percent supported it.

That poll was taken during the presidential campaign last October when then-candidate Biden took no position on court-packing. But as a senator in 1983, he blasted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for trying to do it.

"President Roosevelt clearly had the right to send to the United States Senate and the United States Congress a proposal to pack the court. It was totally within his right to do that. He violated no law. He was legalistically absolutely correct. But it was a bonehead idea!," Biden said. 

The U.S. has had nine justices on the Supreme Court since 1869. To add additional justices would take an act of Congress, along with support from the President, but it's unclear how the country would respond to such a serious move to change 150+ years of precedent.

Just last week, liberal justice Stephen Breyer, the court's oldest member, warned liberal advocates of making big changes to the court, including expanding the number of justices. Breyer said in a speech that advocates should think "long and hard" about what they're proposing. 

"My experience of more than 30 years... as a judge has shown me that once men and women take the judicial oath they take that oath to heart. They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment," Breyer said. "These considerations convince me that it is wrong to think of the court as just another political institution and it is doubly wrong to think of its members as junior league politicians."

Politically driven change could diminish the trust Americans place in the court, Breyer said.

As CBN News previously reported, the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 2019 interview with National Public Radio also said she was not at all in favor of the court-packing solution.

"Nine seems to be a good number," she told NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

She pointed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's wildly unsuccessful 1937 plot to take the Court's numbers to as high as 15, ripped by both parties at the time.

During that year, Indiana Democrat Rep. Samuel Pettingill said, "A packed jury, a packed Court, and a stuffed ballot box are all on the same moral plane. This is more power than a good man should want or a bad man should have."

Justice Ginsburg said, "If anything would make the Court appear partisan it would be that: one side saying 'when we're in power, we're going to enlarge the number of judges.  So we would have more people who will vote the way we want them to.'"

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