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Biden forms commission to investigate several Supreme Court policies, including adding justices

Supreme Court building
Posted at 1:49 PM, Apr 09, 2021

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has ordered a study that will assess the impact of adding seats to the Supreme Court, creating a commission that will spend the next 180 days examining the incendiary political issues of expanding the court and instituting term limits for its justices.

While Biden tried to remain mum on court packing during the 2020 presidential campaign, he did tell a local TV station that he was "not a fan" of the idea of expanding the court.

In launching the review, Biden fulfilled a campaign promise that came amid pressure from activists and Democrats to reshape the Supreme Court after its composition moved sharply to the right during President Donald Trump's term.

Trump added three justices to the high court, including conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just days before last year’s presidential election.

The Republican-controlled Senate moved quickly to fill Ginsburg's seat, unlike in 2016 when it refused to consider President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Upon winning the election Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed to serve on the high court.

The Constitution does not specify how many judges should serve on the high court, though the court has had nine members for decades. While adding judges to the court is not illegal, it would certainly break with decades of precedent and further divide an already-polarized federal government.

In fact, Biden in 1983 called a President Franklin Roosevelt's proposal to pack the court "bonehead idea."

During Friday's White House press briefing, reporters asked press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about those comments. She noted that while Biden's order asks the committee to investigate expanding the court, she added that it will also investigate the court's role in the constitutional system and the idea of instituting term limits for justices.

According to a statement from the White House, the committee formed by Biden's executive order will include legal scholars, "former federal judges and practitioners who have appeared before the Court, as well as advocates for the reform of democratic institutions and of the administration of justice.

The committee will be commissioned by Michelle Adams, a professor of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a board member of the Innocence Project, a group that works to exonerate those who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story erroneously said there were seven justices on the Supreme Court. It has since been updated to reflect there are nine.