WASHINGTON (AFP) – Joe Biden says he is “not a fan” but won’t rule it out if he wins the US presidential election – expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court to counter those named by Donald Trump.
Under the Constitution, justices on the nation’s highest court are nominated to lifetime posts by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Congress sets their number, and after some seesawing in the country’s early days it has remained steady at nine since 1869.
Barring a surprise, the Republican-controlled Senate will in the coming days approve Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon who died on September 18.
That would bring the number of conservative justices on the bench to six, including three nominated by Trump, potentially cementing a conservative majority for decades to come.
Senate Democrats have decried “rushing” through a nomination just weeks away from a presidential election, but there is little they can do about it.
However, the possibility of a Democratic victory on November 3 has given rise to the question of expanding the court, so-called “court-packing.”
“We should leave all options on the table, including the number of justices that are on the Supreme Court,” said Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
The suggestion of adding justices to the venerable body has raised Republican hackles.
Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, said it would “delegitimise the court.”
“Before long it looks like the Senate in Star Wars, where you’ve got hundreds of people on there,” Lee said.
Most Americans appear to oppose expanding the court.
In a YouGov poll, 46 percent said they opposed increasing the number of Supreme Court justices while just 21 percent said they supported it.