Justice Breyer: Lawmakers Should ‘Think Long And Hard’ Before Expanding SCOTUS

on March 14, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer awaits the start of a hearing on Capitol Hill March 14, 2013. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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April 7, 2021 9:51 a.m.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on Tuesday cautioned that broad reforms like court expansion risk politicizing the high court.

The Associated Press reports that as he was giving a virtual lecture to Harvard Law School students and alumni, Breyer said his speech aimed to “make those whose initial instincts may favor important structural change or other similar institutional changes — such as forms of court-packing — think long and hard before they embody those changes in law.”

The justice argued that despite the Supreme Court having a conservative majority, it was “wrong” to consider the high court to be “another political institution,” citing the its rulings against Louisiana’s abortion clinic restriction and ex-President Donald Trump’s attempt to kill the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

However, per the Harvard Crimson, Breyer conceded that it can be “difficult to separate what counts as the jurisprudential view from what counts as political philosophy,” which “in turn can shape views of policy.”

But despite Breyer’s arguments, SCOTUS and justice appointments have in fact become a fixture in partisan politics in recent years, arguably beginning when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stonewalled former President Barack Obama from filling late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat and left it vacant until Trump entered office. Republicans proceeded to ram through three justice confirmations in four years, which also saw them completely abandon McConnell’s made up rule about keeping SCOTUS seats empty in an election year with the appointment of Amy Coney-Barrett last fall.

The GOP’s shenanigans have fueled calls among progressives and Democrats to add seats to the Supreme Court and implement other reforms to counter the conservative takeover of the court, and some have urged 82-year old Breyer, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, to retire during President Joe Biden’s term.

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