A number of Democrats have advocated for expanding the size of the Supreme Court to their political advantage since the party took control of the White House and Capitol Hill earlier this year.
Now, some Democratic senators are admitting that an upcoming Supreme Court case could provide them the political cover they believe is needed to push for reform that possibly includes the controversial concept known as court-packing.
“It’s already driving that movement”
The nation’s highest court is set to hear a Mississippi case outlawing most abortions after 15 weeks, a restriction struck down by appeals courts as too restrictive.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is among those who believe the conservative majority on the Supreme Court could threaten abortion rights.
“It will inevitably fuel and drive an effort to expand the Supreme Court if this activist majority betrays fundamental constitutional principles,” he asserted. “It’s already driving that movement.”
Admitting he did not know whether such a scheme would ultimately succeed, Blumenthal predicted that his party’s efforts could vary depending on the upcoming Supreme Court ruling.
“Chipping away at Roe v. Wade will precipitate a seismic movement to reform the Supreme Court,” he said. “It may not be expanding the Supreme Court, it may be making changes to its jurisdiction, or requiring a certain number of votes to strike down certain past precedents.”
“Be careful what you wish for”
As for the Mississippi case, justices are set to begin hearing oral arguments in October and could issue its ruling as soon as early next year.
Other expected cases, including on the issues of gun control and the Affordable Care Act, could give Democrats further motivation to push for packing the court.
As Elliot Mincberg, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, such a position could soon come back to haunt its proponents.
“Being able to add justices may well depend on first adding more Democratic senators to the Senate, and therefore could have a significant impact on the midterm elections,” he said. “Some people on the right may be saying to themselves, ‘Be careful what you wish for.'”
For their part, many Senate Democrats are still upset with Republicans for holding open the seat vacated by the late Justice Antonin Scalia ahead of the 2016 election and rushing to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat when she died ahead of last year’s election. Of course, everything GOP leaders did was well within their rights, and even some Democrats — like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — are against the progressive push to pack the court.