2020 Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris went on record last year saying she might support adding additional seats to the Supreme Court, in an effort to swing the ideological balance of the judicial branch back to the left.
Beginning with Robert Bork’s failed nomination by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s — and continuing up until the most recent nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh — Senate confirmation fights have turned into political do-or-dies for both sides of the aisle, as reflected by Harris’ past comments to Politico.
“We are on the verge of a crisis of confidence in the Supreme Court,” Harris said last March, according to Politico. “We have to take this challenge head-on, and everything is on the table to do that.”
Harris also reportedly shared similar sentiments with the New York Times, saying she was “absolutely open to” packing the court.
The California Democrat was not the only member of her party’s presidential hopefuls to commit to a court-packing strategy if Trump continued to see success in reshaping the high court. Some even offered proposals to add up to 10 more members.
Though justices are nominated by the president — and confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate — judicial nominees were not thought to be an absolute issue. More often than not, Republicans and Democrats were capable of compromise. In the last several decades, however, the country has seen a historic escalation that has shattered any expectation of bipartisan unity on the matter.
Sens.Cory Booker, D-N.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., all signaled an openness to overhauling the court if they became president. Progressive groups have also devoted funding to push the message to the public, in an effort to tap into perceived liberal anger over Trump’s judicial efficiency.
“First they steal a Supreme Court seat, and then they turn around and change the rules on the filibuster on a Supreme Court seat,” Warren said during a podcast interview last year. “So when it swings back to us what are we going to do? I think all the options are on the table.”
Democrats have lambasted the GOP in recent days over the memory of Senate Republicans – led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – refusing in 2016 to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was ultimately confirmed instead.
McConnell said at the time that the American public should have a say in the process with their vote for president, but has since defended his decision to move forward with Trump’s nominee, claiming the situation is different because the same party currently controls the presidency and the Senate – which was not the case in 2016.
The Kentucky Republican has been extremely committed to pushing through Trump’s judicial agenda with a rallying cry of “No vacancy left behind.” He has helped the president fill over 200 appeals court openings, some of which were leftover from the Obama administration.
For the federal courts, Democrats set the rules in 2011, when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada — exasperated with GOP opposition to Obama’s nominees — eliminated the filibuster threshold for most of the president’s judicial choices.
McConnell then expanded on the decision in 2017 to include Supreme Court nominees, which eventually allowed Gorsuch to win confirmation.
Trump on the other hand has rejected the idea of court-packing and seems committed to filling the seat left open by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing with a female nominee. Potentially, Notre Dame professor and federal judge Amy Coney Barrett.
“I wouldn’t entertain [packing the court]. The only reason that they’re doing that is they want to try and catch up,” the president said when asked about the so-called court-packing scheme during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.
The idea of court-packing was born out of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative, which was being curtailed and checked by a conservative court. He proposed adding up to six more members to produce more favorable rulings for the executive branch.
“I will appoint justices who will not undertake to override the judgment of the Congress on legislative policy,” the Democratic president said in a “Fireside chat” radio address in March 1937.
The plan was met with public angst and political condemnation, before it was ultimately abandoned.
Fox News’ Bill Mears contributed to this report