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

Former Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom 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 TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE’s judicial appointments. Presidential candidates who have floated the idea include South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio New study: Full-scale 'Medicare for All' costs trillion over 10 years MORE and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials We can't allow presidents and public opinion to further diminish the work of the press Democrats sue over North Carolina's congressional maps 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 McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey MORE (R-Ky.) to not hold hearings or a vote on then-President Obama's final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandSupreme Court can prove its independence — or its partisan capture The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems seize on Ukraine transcript in impeachment fight Brett Kavanaugh debate exemplifies culture war between left and right MORE, and have also pointed to Trump's appointment of two justices to the high court: Neil Gorsuch and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSusan Collins raises .1 million in third quarter Poll: 50 percent of Maine voters disapprove of Susan Collins's job performance Collins challenger raises .2 million in third quarter MORE.

Not all Democrats pursuing White House bids in 2020 have line up behind the idea, however. For example, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio New study: Full-scale 'Medicare for All' costs trillion over 10 years 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.