Hatch warns 'dangerous' idea of court packing could hurt religious liberty

Former Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer Trump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify MORE (R-Utah) is warning that expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court could adversely affect religious liberty.

Hatch, who retired from the Senate earlier this year after more than four decades, pushed back on the idea floated by some 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls while writing an op-ed published in Utah's Deseret News newspaper.

“The consequences of such action would be catastrophic and irreversible: The court would no longer serve as a shield against oppression but as a political weapon in the hands of an angry majority,” Hatch wrote.

“When this proposal was last en vogue in the 1930s, Democratic Sen. Burton Wheeler of Montana cautioned that it would effectively ‘extinguish (our) right of liberty, of speech, of thought, of action and of religion.’”

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Hatch tied court-packing proposals to a “flood” of litigation and legislative proposals that would “subordinate individual beliefs to the demands of government.”

Several Democratic presidential contenders have suggested adding seats to the high court to counter President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE’s judicial appointments. Presidential candidates who have floated the idea include South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegButtigieg wouldn't reverse US embassy move to Jerusalem: 'What's done is done' Buttigieg wouldn't reverse US embassy move to Jerusalem: 'What's done is done' Buttigieg: Iran situation 'disturbingly reminiscent' of lead-up to Iraq War MORE and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderCongress and contempt: What you need to know Congress and contempt: What you need to know The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? MORE has also endorsed the idea.

Progressive activists and supporters pushing for the proposal argue that it, among other potential reforms, are necessary to counteract Trump and Senate Republicans, who they argue have "packed" the judicial system with conservative judges. 

The Democratic base remains deeply bitter over a decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown Jon Stewart slams McConnell over 9/11 victim fund MORE (R-Ky.) to not hold hearings or a vote on then-President Obama's final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandDemocrats should initiate a 'Fire Mitch McConnell' campaign Valerie Jarrett: Obama would be impeached 'in a nanosecond' for behaving like Trump Democratic strategist says McConnell's comments on Supreme Court vacancy are 'a blessing' MORE, and have also pointed to Trump's appointment of two justices to the high court: Neil Gorsuch and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughAnticipation builds for final Supreme Court rulings Anticipation builds for final Supreme Court rulings Trump throws support behind 'no brainer' measure to ban burning of American flag MORE.

Not all Democrats pursuing White House bids in 2020 have line up behind the idea, however. For example, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersConfused by polls? Watch early primary states — not national numbers Confused by polls? Watch early primary states — not national numbers Biden leads in early voting states, followed by Warren, Sanders: poll MORE (I-Vt.) has expressed skepticism about the proposal, saying a future GOP president would simply continue to expand the court. 

McConnell has called court-packing an “absurd notion” from the “ash heap of history” and accused advocates of refusing to accept their loss in 2016.