While on the 2020 campaign trail in the wake of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then-candidate Joe Biden often dodged questions about demands from Democrats to “pack” the U.S. Supreme Court — and eliminate its current conservative tilt — with a vow to instate a special “bipartisan commission” to consider the idea, among other potential reforms.
According to Politico, the president followed through on that misguided promise Friday with an order establishing a commission to weigh possible measures to reform the nation’s highest court. The group is set to deliver a final report on its findings within the next six months.
While the commission could save Biden from making a potentially costly move for his career and the future of the Supreme Court — and Biden has said he’s “not a fan” of court-packing, as Politico notes — its creation also opens the door for major changes that could alter the federal judicial system as we know it.
A commission on the SCOTUS
Biden’s executive order establishing his Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States was first issued Friday.
According to Biden’s order, the commission is set to be made up of 36 members and will include two co-chairs.
Those named to the committee will purportedly be “distinguished constitutional scholars, retired members of the Federal judiciary, or other individuals having experience with and knowledge of the Federal judiciary and the Supreme Court.”
Studying “the merits and legality”
In a statement issued in support of the order, the White House explained that “[t]he Commission’s purpose is to provide an analysis of the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform, including an appraisal of the merits and legality of particular reform proposals.”
“The topics it will examine include 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,” the White House said.
The commission will also supposedly hold “public hearings” on various reform proposals and issue a report within 180 days, though it is unclear what that report might look like and whether it will include formal recommendations to the president.
Not so “bipartisan”
National Review reports that Biden had promised that the commission would be “bipartisan” in nature — but based on the pair of co-chairs he named to run it, it’s not shaping up that way.
The president has reportedly named Bob Bauer, who served as counsel to the White House under former President Barack Obama, and Christina Rodriguez, a Yale law professor who also served in the Obama administration as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, to lead the commission.
Of course, it remains to be seen what sort of conclusions the group will reach on the Supreme Court and federal judiciary at large. But at least one thing is for certain: Biden is open to potentially big changes, and that can’t mean good things for the legacy Donald Trump hoped to leave behind on the nation’s court system.