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The term “court packing” was coined by opponents of a judicial reform bill proposed in 1937 by Franklin Roosevelt. While it’s often presented as if that bill would have filled the Supreme Court chambers with a football team worth of justices, in fact it would have allowed the president to appoint justices for for each seated justice over the age of 70, up to a maximum of six justices. The idea was that, since Supreme Court seats are for life, it’s very easy to end up with a room full of people whose ideas are generations out of synch with either the ideas or needs of the nation. See ,,, just about every Supreme Court ever. Roosevelt’s opponents successfully vilified the idea, and the bill was ultimately stalled in the Senate. However, just raising the idea seemed to get the conservatives-laden court to suddenly shift its ideas on significant rulings, such as deciding that a minimum-wage law was not unconstitutional after all, despite what it had ruled just one year earlier.
Roosevelt’s bill may have failed, but the official size of the court has changed at least seven times, sometimes with no more lofty goal than specifically allowing a new president to appoint more justices.
Biden can point out that the court has already been packed by Republicans who have seated 15 justices in the last 50 years, a period in which Democrats have only named four. If that had all occurred as a coincidence of when Justices happened to die, it would be one thing. It hasn’t. Not only has there been deliberate manipulation of openings by a Republican Senate that refused to give a hearing to a nominee from a Democratic president, there also has been more than one occasion of direct coordination between the Republicans on the court and sitting justices, as happened when Justice Kennedy negotiated his own retirement to give Trump an additional slot.
The idea that the court is, or ever was, apolitical, is … pure malarkey. And Biden should not have it.