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

Former Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchHatch warns 'dangerous' idea of court packing could hurt religious liberty Former Democratic aide pleads guilty to doxing GOP senators attending Kavanaugh hearing How do we prevent viral live streaming of New Zealand-style violence? 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 TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE’s judicial appointments. Presidential candidates who have floated the idea include South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Minorities, older adults push Biden to top of 2020 poll MORE and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderDems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Former Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' Holder: Any 'competent' prosecutor could win obstruction case against Trump 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration Biden and Bernie set for clash MORE (R-Ky.) to not hold hearings or a vote on then-President Obama's final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandSenate buzzsaw awaits 2020 progressive proposals The Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today McConnell touts Trump support, Supreme Court fights in reelection video MORE, and have also pointed to Trump's appointment of two justices to the high court: Neil Gorsuch and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughTrump's Fed pick on critics: 'They're pulling a Kavanaugh against me' Conservative justices signal willingness to allow census citizenship question Supreme Court sees more serious divide open on death penalty MORE.

Not all Democrats pursuing White House bids in 2020 have line up behind the idea, however. For example, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Meghan McCain: Bernie Sanders supporting prisoners being able to vote 'bats**t insane' 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.