Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court

Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court
© Greg Nash
Senate Republicans warned on Thursday that they will block any efforts to expand the Supreme Court, and they urged the justices not to be "cowed" by a recent legal brief from Senate Democrats calling on them to reject a gun case.
 
Each of the Senate's 53 Republicans signed a letter — spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNegotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms States begin removing Capitol's Confederate statues on their own Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamYates spars with GOP at testy hearing Trump knocks Sally Yates ahead of congressional testimony Republicans uncomfortably playing defense MORE (R-S.C.) — pushing back against an amicus brief from five Democratic senators that suggested the court should "heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.'"
 
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"Our colleagues ... openly threatened this Court with political retribution if it failed to dismiss the petition as moot," the GOP senators wrote in their letter to the Supreme Court's clerk. "The implication is as plain as day: Dismiss this case, or we’ll pack the Court."
 
The Democrats' brief urged the Supreme Court not to take up a challenge to New York City's gun laws, writing that the courts "do not undertake political 'projects.' Or at least they should not."
 
Progressives praised the brief and viewed it as a warning shot to the court to change tactics or face growing calls for structural reforms.
 
Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice — a progressive group that has floated expanding the number of Supreme Court justices — called the brief a "badass move."
 
ThinkProgress, which is affiliated with the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund, characterized the Democratic senators as declaring "all-out war" on the Supreme Court.
 
But the brief sparked fierce backlash from conservative groups and GOP lawmakers. Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats seek to exploit Trump-GOP tensions in COVID-19 talks Liability shield fight threatens to blow up relief talks Democrats call for McConnell to bring Voting Rights Act to floor in honor of Lewis MORE (D-R.I.), one of the five Democratic senators who signed onto the brief, acknowledged to The Washington Post that the brief had sparked a "frantic reaction ... from the far right."
 
Senate Republicans, in their letter, argued that the brief was the latest example of the independence of the courts being "under assault."
 
The courts have emerged as a lightening rod issue during the Trump era. Progressive groups have tried to make structural reforms like expanding the Supreme Court a litmus test for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. 
 
Meanwhile, McConnell has put a premium on confirming President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE's judicial picks. Republicans have set a record pace on influential appeals court nominees, and GOP senators nixed the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in 2017. Democrats had already removed the same vote threshold for lower court and executive nominees in 2013.

"The Democrats’ amicus brief demonstrates that their court-packing plans are more than mere pandering. They are a direct, immediate threat to the independence of the judiciary and the rights of all Americans," Republicans wrote in their letter.

"For our part, we promise this: While we remain Members of this body, the Democrats’ threat to 'restructure' the Court is an empty one. We share Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg’s view that 'nine seems to be a good number.' And it will remain that way as long as we are here," they added.