A number of Democratic lawmakers are pushing a plan to expand the U.S. Supreme Court to include 13 justices in a move many Republicans are describing as a blatant power grab.
For his part, Sen. John Thun (R-SD), if Democrats continue their push to add four justices to the nation’s highest court, it will trigger a “nuclear war” in the Senate, thus destroying all hopes of bipartisanship.
“I think if they try to do that, it’d be [a] no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle brawl,” he said in a recent interview with the Washington Examiner.
The process commonly known as court-packing would require an end to the Senate filibuster and Thune declared that the GOP would respond in kind to such a declaration of partisan war from across the aisle.
Among the likely actions Republicans could take in such a scenario would be refusing the Senate a quorum on future motions and adding numerous amendments to proposed bills, both of which would slow the chamber’s business down to a crawl. Nevertheless, several House Democrats continue to push for an expanded Supreme Court as a reaction to the perceived impropriety of GOP actions in recent years that have resulted in a conservative majority on the court.
Democrats widely objected to the decision of Senate Republicans to refuse a vote on former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 as well as the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett just weeks before November’s presidential election.
In response to those GOP moves, some Democrats believe that court-packing is justified. With a governing majority on Capitol Hill and a Democrat in the White House, party leaders clearly see the courts — particularly the Supreme Court — as the only impediment to pushing through their progressive agenda.
“Creating a puppet court”
As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made clear, however, his party is prepared to fight back using whatever tools are at its disposal.
“If I have to stay in South Carolina to deny a quorum to do this crazy stuff, I will,” he said. “If a third-world emerging democracy did this, the State Department with all of us would be talking about a puppet government creating a puppet court.”
The Senate requires a majority, or 51 senators, to be present for most actions to progress. Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as the Senate president and tie-breaking vote, does not count toward that number.
To deny Democrats a quorum, all 50 GOP senators would need to be on board. If Democrats decided to change the Senate rules to nullify the filibuster, however, they could also change the quorum rules just as easily.
At least a couple of Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — are adamant about keeping the filibuster, though, and it would only take one dissenting vote from that party to kill the measure. In the end, the balance of American democracy appears to be hanging in the balance — and it could come down to two Democrats who care more about the country that party loyalty.