Democrats and Republicans appear to have reached a level of bipartisan unity in openness to the idea of reforming the federal judiciary and increasing the number of judges in the lower courts, even as the two parties continue to do battle on the issue of the ‘court packing’ of the Supreme Court.
Democratic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Hill late Saturday that he was approached by a Republican counterpart “about expanding the number of federal judges in his state”, and said “there seems to be some sentiment that there [are] backlogs in the dockets of federal judges”.
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, confirmed to the outlet that he was open to considering the idea. “My state’s a big, growing state, and we’ve got huge caseloads…I’d be open to having a conversation about that,” he said.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, newly minted Senate Majority Leader, told MSCNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week that he was looking to increase the number of federal judges to ‘rebalance’ the judiciary after it had been “stacked” with conservatives by Trump.
“Fifty-one votes allow us to put judges on the bench and report them out of committee. And there will be lots of vacancies that come up. And I think there are a lot of judges, Democratic appointees, who didn’t take senior status while Trump was president, who now will,” he said.
“Secondly, traditionally, we have increased the number in the lower and circuit courts. I have in the city of Buffalo a huge – they don’t have enough judges. There’s this long line before you can get to court because they don’t have enough. So we could expand those,” Schumer suggested.
The Biden administration currently has about 50 judicial vacancies that it needs to fill, including three powerful circuit court justice vacancies and 47 positions in district courts. Expanding the number of seats in federal courts in each state would necessitate bipartisan agreement from lawmakers.
SCOTUS Packing Spat
Even as some lawmakers from both parties appear to be in agreement on the idea of increasing the size of the federal judiciary, Democrats and Republicans remain bitterly divided on the issue of expanding the Supreme Court beyond its current nine justices, with the concept known as ‘court packing’.
Democrats began discussing the idea after the death of Bill Clinton-nominated liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, which prompted Trump to nominate conservative lawyer Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. The Supreme Court now has six Republican-appointed justices, and just three appointed under a Democratic president. Supreme Court justices serve for life.a commission to examine the possibility of expanding the Supreme Court, with the commission expected to complete its work and issue a report in six months.
Biden deliberately avoided mentioning the SCOTUS expansion on the campaign trail, with Republicans blasting the idea and Trump arguing that the idea could “permanently destroy the Court” if implemented.
Biden passionately opposed packing the Supreme Court in the 1980s, calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s toying with the idea in the 1930s a “bonehead idea” and a “terrible, terrible mistake to make.”