Democrats Propose 13 Seats on the U.S. Supreme Court

House and Senate Democrats have proposed a bill to expand the U.S. Supreme Court from nine Justices to 13.

Currently, six Justices generally vote (or in the case of Justice Barrett are predicted to vote) conservative in big, controversial cases. If four seats were added to the Supreme Court and filled with Biden nominees, the balance of power would shift left--particularly in cases involving hot button issues.

While Congress has passed legislation over the years changing the number of Justices, since 1869 the number has been set at nine.

According to one of the bill sponsors, this legislation is in response to the Senate refusing to hold hearings when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Justice Scalia’s seat and the Senate confirming Justice Barrett right before the 2020 Presidential election.

In 2016 Justice Scalia died suddenly. President Trump ultimately nominated Justice Gorsuch to fill Justices Scalia’s seat; he was confirmed in April 2017. In September 2020 Justice Ginsburg died. President Trump quickly nominated Justice Barrett; she was confirmed in October 2020. Had Justices Scalia and Ginsburg been replaced by nominees chosen by a Democrat President, the Supreme Court today likely would have five reliable liberal Justices.    

On the campaign trail, President Biden indicated he “wasn’t a fan” of so-called court packing. Regardless, it is unlikely this proposed law will be enacted. Even if it passed by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, it is unlikely there are 60 votes in the Senate needed to overcome a filibuster.  

President Biden, as promised, has created a commission to study reforming the Supreme Court. The 36-member, bipartisan body has 180 days to complete a report studying “the genesis of the reform debate; the Court’s role in the Constitutional system; the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court; the membership and size of the Court; and the Court’s case selection, rules, and practices.”