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White House commission on Supreme Court to seek comments, debate changes

Organizational meeting is a 'major milestone' for advocates of overhauling the court

Sen. Ed Markey attends a news conference outside the Supreme Court with other Democratic lawmakers on April 15 to announce legislation to expand the number of seats of Supreme Court justices.
Sen. Ed Markey attends a news conference outside the Supreme Court with other Democratic lawmakers on April 15 to announce legislation to expand the number of seats of Supreme Court justices. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The new White House commission on the Supreme Court will hold two days of public testimony in late June and late July, and then four other hearings at which it will debate expanding the court beyond its current nine members and other topics that could directly affect Congress.

“We expect that many people will want to offer their testimony and their comments to the commission,” co-chairman Bob Bauer said during the commission’s first public meeting Wednesday. “And, as I said earlier, we’re going to encourage it.”

The commission plans full days of testimony from panels and as many as 24 witnesses over those two-day periods. Witnesses will also answer questions from the 36-member commission.

Gabe Roth, the executive director of the nonpartisan group Fix the Court, which advocates for accountability and transparency, said he will seek to be one of those who testify.

“Though the first meeting of President Biden’s Supreme Court Reform Commission today was more housekeeping than iconoclasm — which likely disappointed some folks with large, social media-optimized megaphones — the fact that a bipartisan, presidentially approved body is discussing ways to modernize the high court is a major milestone,” Roth said.

Wednesday’s short organizational meeting focused on airing how the commission plans to compile and share comments it receives from the public on ideas about changing how the Supreme Court operates.

Public comments will be accepted and shared on the commission’s website, as will information about those upcoming hearings.

The commission suggested that public comments be submitted by Aug. 15 to have the best chance of being considered for the final report to President Joe Biden, which is due in six months. The commission was tasked with analyzing the debate for and against overhauling the Supreme Court, but not with making any recommendations to Biden.

The commission has announced that it will look at five areas, including changes to the scope of the court’s authority.

Those ideas include requiring the Supreme Court to use a supermajority when it votes to invalidate congressional action or other government action, or creating a procedure for congressional overrides of court decisions, commissioner William Baude said at the meeting.

The more high-profile ideas the commission will consider are whether justices should have term limits instead of life tenure on the Supreme Court and whether to expand the size of the court.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey and three Democratic members of the House — Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Rep. Mondaire Jones, both of New York, and Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson — have introduced a bill to increase the number of justices from nine to 13.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin of Illinois have both cast serious doubts on the chances of the bill getting action in either chamber, pointing instead to the work of the commission.

There already has been interest from Congress. Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse sent a letter to the commissioners Tuesday, urging them to grapple with judicial ethics and “the role of secretive special-interest influence in and around the Court.”

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, along with Johnson, joined the letter.

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