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Thune: Democrats’ Court-Packing Plan is a Danger to Democracy

“I hope that at least some of my Democrat colleagues will find the courage to speak up and consign the idea of court-packing to the ash heap of history, where it should have remained.”

April 20, 2021

Washington — 

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed Democrats’ partisan legislation to pack the U.S. Supreme Court and warned of the destruction it would do to America’s well-established court system. Thune strongly encouraged Democrats to consider the damage this blatant power grab would do to the health of the nation’s democracy and the stability of our country.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

“Well, Mr. President, it only took a week.

“Just one week after President Biden established his commission to study court-packing and other ostensible Supreme Court ‘reforms,’ Democrat members of Congress from both houses introduced legislation to actually pack the court.

“Many people are probably wondering what crisis precipitated this legislation – a crisis so grave that these Democrats couldn’t even wait for the results of the president’s stacked commission.

“Well, I’ll tell you.

“The crisis that requires us to immediately add four additional justices to the Supreme Court – after 150 years of the court at its current size – is that a duly elected Republican president was able to get three Supreme Court nominees approved.

“Apparently, by confirming a duly elected president’s Supreme Court nominees, Republicans stole the court’s majority – which, I guess, rightfully belongs to Democrats – and in doing so, quote, ‘politicized the Supreme Court’ and ‘threatened the rights of millions of Americans.’

“This legislation, the bill’s Senate sponsor says, will ‘restore the court’s balance and public standing’ and ‘begin to repair the damage done to our judiciary and democracy.’

“The only problem, of course, Mr. President, is that this supposed crisis of confidence in the Supreme Court doesn’t actually exist.

“A majority of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing.

“The Supreme Court’s approval rating actually increased over the course of the Trump administration.

“If the junior senator from Massachusetts is looking to address a crisis of confidence, perhaps he should take a look at Congress, whose approval rating is consistently far lower than that of the Supreme Court.

“The real crisis we’re facing is not a crisis of confidence in the court, it’s that Democrats are apparently willing to do long-term damage to our democracy for partisan gain.

“Yes, Democrats are being hypocritical.

“And yes, their court-packing proposal is outrageously and transparently partisan.

“But more than that, it’s dangerous.

“Because Democrats’ court-packing would eliminate public confidence in the nonpartisan character of the court.

“Right now, the Supreme Court is generally seen as being at least somewhat above the partisan fray, as the Founders intended – a fact that I think is reflected in the court’s positive approval rating. 

“While some justices are regarded as more conservative and some as more liberal, Americans don’t see justices as partisan in the way we see politicians as partisan – and rightly so.

“I can think of more than one significant case where supposedly conservative justices have sided with the court’s liberals … and there are plenty of cases where all of the Supreme Court’s justices have ruled unanimously.

“As Justice Breyer pointed out in his recent speech condemning court-packing, Supreme Court justices do not fit neatly into conservative or liberal categories.

“But that perception of Supreme Court justices as above partisanship would not last long if Democrats succeeded in packing the court. 

“Just think about it.

“We have had the same number of Supreme Court justices – nine – for more than 150 years.

“150 years.

“Then Democrats sweep in, announce the makeup of the Supreme Court isn’t to their liking, and propose adding four justices – all of them appointed in one fell swoop by a Democrat president.

“And that’s in addition to any nominations the president might make in the ordinary course of things.

“Does any Democrat sincerely think that after that, any Republican would regard the Supreme Court as nonpartisan?

“For that matter, how many Democrats would regard the Supreme Court as nonpartisan?

“Just imagine if the roles were reversed.

“Imagine that Republicans were proposing to expand the Supreme Court and add four Republican-nominated justices.

“Imagine the howls of outrage that would ensue.

“And rightly so.

“Democrats, the media, the far left – all would rightfully decry the politicization of the Supreme Court.

“And yet Democrats expect us to believe that if it’s Democrats who do this – if it’s Democrats who pack the Supreme Court – somehow this move is not partisan and self-serving?

“As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, ‘If anything would make the court look partisan, it would be that — one side saying, ‘When we’re in power, we’re going to enlarge the number of judges, so we would have more people who would vote the way we want them to.’

“Or in the words of Justice Breyer, ‘I hope and expect that the court will retain its authority, an authority that … was hard won. But that authority, like the rule of law, depends on trust – a trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics.’

“And, Justice Breyer noted, ‘Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that latter perception, further eroding that trust.’

“Mr. President, as these two reliably liberal justices make clear, Democrats’ court-packing plan would do the very thing Democrats claim to oppose – politicize the court.

“The Supreme Court would quickly lose its nonpartisan standing … and quickly become a joke. 

“Democrats cannot possibly think that court-packing would begin and end with their move under the Biden administration.

“I can guarantee that next time there’s a Republican president and a Republican Congress, Republicans would be moving to ‘balance’ Democrats’ power grab by adding a few seats of their own.

“Then the next Democrat administration would do the same thing.

“It wouldn’t be long before the Supreme Court had expanded to ludicrous proportions.

“Twenty justices.  Thirty.  More.

“Instead of a respected and separate branch of government, the Supreme Court would be coopted by the legislative and executive branches. 

“The separation of powers, upon which our entire federal system is built, would be destroyed.

“Mr. President, the consequences of politicizing – and trivializing – the court, as packing the court would do, would be grave.

“If Americans don’t respect the court, they will have little reason to respect the court’s decisions or regard them as either definitive or binding.

“There has been a lot of concern – rightfully so – about the increasingly partisan and contentious nature of our politics.

“Politicizing the court by packing the court would further inflame partisan division and lead to increasingly bitter and dangerous friction in our society.

“Mr. President, it is deeply, deeply disappointing that Democrat leaders – and others in their caucus who wish to be seen as serious and responsible policymakers – haven’t condemned this dangerous proposal to upend a bedrock institution of our democracy.

“I understand that it may be difficult for them to stand up to the unhinged, far-left fringes of their party.

“And it’s possible that some of them are reluctant to condemn this proposal because of the partisan advantage it would provide.

“But anyone who cares about the health of our democracy and the stability of our country should be loudly and clearly opposing any discussion of court-packing.

“I hope that at least some of my Democrat colleagues will find the courage to speak up and consign the idea of court-packing to the ash heap of history, where it should have remained.”