Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his bully pulpit to try to pack the Supreme Court. He struck out, and in the 1938 midterm elections, his party lost 72 seats in the House of Representatives and seven seats in the Senate. As they say, history repeats itself.
Perhaps that’s why Speaker Nancy Pelosi poured cold water on the partisan bill introduced this week by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler. When asked about the court-packing bill, Pelosi said, “I don’t know that it’s a good idea or a bad idea.”
President Joe Biden knows.
In 1983, then-Sen. Biden called FDR’s court-packing effort “a bonehead idea.” I agree with the 46th president. It is a bonehead idea to pack the court. It’s a pure power grab that would incinerate public trust in our institutions of government.
Having served on the Senate Judiciary Committee since 1981 and as chairman for four of those years, I’ve spent decades in the trenches of judicial-confirmation warfare. I’ve participated in 16 Supreme Court confirmations and more than a thousand more to fill vacancies in the nation’s lower courts.
Advice and consent by the Senate to serve lifetime appointments in the federal judiciary give the people a constitutional check on those selected to interpret the law of the land. Doing so while respecting the independence of the federal judiciary helps preserve public confidence in our institutions of government. The Supreme Court is the final word on matters affecting the lives and livelihoods of people, from healthcare to taxes, abortion, gun control, privacy, and voting laws.
Unfortunately, bare-knuckle politics took over the confirmation process in 1987, when partisans succeeded in sabotaging Judge Robert Bork’s nomination with a well-orchestrated slander campaign against him. Since then, “Borking” a nominee made its way into the political playbook. Four years later, people watched confirmation proceedings turn into daytime soap operas. Then-Judge Clarence Thomas unflinchingly defended his reputation, calling allegations made against him a “high-tech lynching.”
More recently, Senate confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh devolved into an unprecedented attempted character assassination of a nominee to the high court. As then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I refused to cave to the mob and carried out the committee’s responsibilities to vet the nominee thoroughly and fairly for a consequential lifetime appointment.