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

Former Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals 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.’”

ADVERTISEMENT

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 TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE’s judicial appointments. Presidential candidates who have floated the idea include South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Candidates weighing using private jets to get to Iowa Biden nabs endorsement from Iowa Democrat in swing district MORE and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderWisconsin governor rolls out proposal for redistricting committee End impeachment's government shutdown Parties to wage census battle with outside groups 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 McConnellSchumer: Trump's team made case for new witnesses 'even stronger' Trump, Democrats risk unintended consequences with impeachment arguments CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE (R-Ky.) to not hold hearings or a vote on then-President Obama's final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandMitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate The Trumpification of the federal courts Juan Williams: GOP are hypocrites on impeachment MORE, and have also pointed to Trump's appointment of two justices to the high court: Neil Gorsuch and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughDemocrats Manchin, Jones signal they're undecided on Trump removal vote Collins walks impeachment tightrope Supreme Court sharply divided over state aid for religious schools MORE.

Not all Democrats pursuing White House bids in 2020 have line up behind the idea, however. For example, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters 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.