GOP's aggression could backfire as 2020 Democrats consider expanding the Supreme Court
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at CPAC 2011 (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

When it comes to nominating Supreme Court justices, President Donald Trump has been even more right-wing than President Ronald Reagan—who nominated the far-right Justice Antonin Scalia but also nominated Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the libertarian-leaning Justice Anthony Kennedy. The future of the Supreme Court will be an important subject for Democrats in the 2020 election, and a new report by journalists Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine for Politico finds that more Democrats are open to the idea of increasing the number of High Court justices.

This isn’t the first time Democrats have discussed the idea of having more than nine justices on the Supreme Court. Back in the 1930s, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt grew frustrated with right-wing justices who were hostile to parts of his New Deal, he was quite serious about expanding the Court to 15 justices. FDR’s proposal was voted down in the Senate, but in their Politico piece, Everett and Levine take a look at some of the Democrats who, in 2019, are revisiting the idea of an expanded Supreme Court.

One of them is 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who appears open to not only increasing the Court to 15 justices, but also, imposing term limits for justices. And Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, another proponent of expanding the Court, complained that it “should not be a court that you can figure out who the Republican judges are and who aren’t.”

Another Democrat who believes that her party needs to fight fire with fire is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a 2020 presidential hopeful. When Scalia died in 2016 and President Barack Obama nominated centrist Judge Merrick Garland, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to even consider a vote—and Gillibrand told Politico that she believes Justice Neil Gorsuch (the Trump appointee who ended up filling that seat in 2017) is essentially illegitimate.

Sen. Cory Booker, who is running for president, told Politico that he is open to expanding the size of the Court but warns that Republicans could do the same thing.

Booker asserted, “I really caution people about doing things that become a tit for tat throughout history. So, when the Democrats expand it to 11, 12 judges, when Republicans have it, they expand it to 15 judges.”

Not all of the Democrats Politico quoted are excited about expanding the Supreme Court. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is quoted as saying that having nine judges is “appropriate,” and the centrist Sen. Jon Tester of Montana believes that adding seats to the Court would be a “mistake.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, meanwhile, is on the fence.

“It is clearly a controversial, if not radical, proposal to change the length of the terms or the number of justices,” Durban told Politico. “But it’s become so political because of Sen. McConnell’s decision to take away the 60-vote requirement that we may reach a point where there is no return. I’m not endorsing it at this moment in time, but I’m not going to rule it out.”