On one hand, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s concern about the makeup of the Supreme Court is crucial to promoting the unity President Joe Biden has forcefully advocated. On the other hand, it represents stunning hypocrisy on the part of congressional Republicans.
Herrera Beutler has joined nearly 40 fellow House Republicans in co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would cap the court at its current nine members. Some Democrats have hinted at expanding the court, now that their party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.
To be clear, the court should remain at nine members. Expanding membership for political gain — in this case, to undermine the court’s conservative majority — would further exacerbate the divisiveness that has scarred Washington, D.C., and the nation. The Supreme Court is not a plaything to be used at the whim of the party in control, and such an unprecedented expansion would serve as a green light for the other party to do the same if it regains power.
But Herrera Beutler’s righteous declaration in support of the bill is deserving of ridicule.
“To preserve the impartiality of the Supreme Court, we must fend off dangerous calls to ‘pack the court,’ which would severely deteriorate the credibility of the judicial branch,” Herrera Beutler said in a media release. “The Founding Fathers were wise to create a separate judicial branch of government to withstand partisan attacks from the legislative branch, and with recent calls by ultra-liberal Democrats to expand the court to better suit their political agenda, it’s more important now than ever to preserve its integrity.”
The integrity of the Supreme Court was shredded in recent years by the gross duplicity of Senate Republicans. Under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., they refused to grant a hearing to Obama nominee Merrick Garland eight months before the 2016 presidential election, declaring that voters should determine which president nominates the next justice. Those same Republicans, however, saw fit to confirm Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett seven days before the 2020 election.
That means that Republican presidents have appointed six of the nine current justices — even though their party has lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections.
Indeed, the Supreme Court always has been subject to political gamesmanship. But McConnell’s tactic pushed that gamesmanship to a new low. For Herrera Beutler to call for “impartiality” and “credibility” while decrying “partisan attacks” and a “political agenda” is to ignore her own party’s vulgar manipulation of the system.
That being said, limiting the court to nine justices makes sense, but it has no chance of passing. Amending the Constitution requires approval from two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, followed by passage from three-fourths of the states. Congressional Democrats will pay no mind to the measure, leaving it to die as nothing more than a partisan appeal from Republicans to their base.
Instead, Democrats should recognize the importance of the measure and how the possibility of packing the Supreme Court — even if that possibility is remote — is viewed by conservatives as a threat. They should consider their reaction if Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress and started talking about adding justices.
Enshrining the court at nine members would help foster unity — even if decrying the court’s politicization is the height of hypocrisy.