Democrats will introduce bill to expand Supreme Court from 9 to 13

The idea gets a thumbs-up from progressives, who balked at the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett just a week before the 2020 election.

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Last week, President Joe Biden announced the formation of a commission to study the structure of the Supreme Court. Today, Congressional Democrats will introduce legislation to expand the number of justices serving on the court from nine to 13. 

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, who is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. 

Today, Congressional Democrats will introduce legislation to expand the number of justices serving on United States Supreme Court from nine to 13. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court can be increased by an act of Congress, as Congress dictates its size, not the Constitution. In 1789, President George Washington signed a judiciary act that set the number of justices at six, and the court has had nine since 1869. According to History.com, before that, the number of justices fluctuated between five and 10.  

The newly-formed commission will study the number of justices on the court, as well as their length of service. 

Changes to the Supreme Court are not popular with most voters. The idea of “packing the court” — which, essentially, means adding seats to it in order to secure a majority — was a persistent issue during the 2020 presidential election. President Biden has said that he is “not a fan.”

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But the idea of making changes to the court is popular among progressive Democrats, who balked at the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett just one week before the 2020 presidential election despite the refusal of former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to confirm Merrick Garland in 2016 more than 10 months before that year’s election. Garland was recently confirmed as the United States’ attorney general.

Former President Donald Trump confirmed three justices to the court during his unpopular term. 

“This bill marks a new era where Democrats finally stop conceding the Supreme Court to Republicans,” Brian Fallon, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide and co-founder of Demand Justice, told NBC News. Fallon described the court as “broken and in need of reform.”

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“Our task now,” he said, “is to build a grassroots movement that puts pressure on every Democrat in Congress to support this legislation because it is the only way to restore balance to the court and protect our democracy.”

McConnell released a statement saying the Supreme Court does not require study. “President Biden campaigned on a promise of lowering the temperature and uniting a divided nation,” he said. “If he really meant it, he would stop giving oxygen to a dangerous, antiquated idea and stand up to the partisans hawking it.” 

The examination of the Supreme Court is another major progressive effort of legislative review that Democrats have passed. The House of Representatives recently passed legislation to create a study of reparations for Black Americans. 

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