SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's two Republican senators signed on to a bill Monday calling for a constitutional amendment to keep the U.S. Supreme Court at nine justices to prevent Democratic "court packing" — an idea some 2020 presidential candidates are entertaining.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the legislation in the Senate to limit the court to nine seats, which it has had since 1869. The Constitution allows Congress to decide how many justices sit on the Supreme Court.
Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney are among the dozen senators backing the proposal.
Lee said the court has functioned "admirably" for nearly 150 years.
"To change that number now, for the barest of partisan reasons, would fundamentally delegitimize the court and throw our entire constitutional framework into question," he said in a statement.
The amendment is a "common sense step" to make sure neither side takes this "drastic and dangerous step," Lee said.
Romney said any effort to treat the Supreme Court like an elected branch of government should be resisted.
"Recent court-packing proposals are transparent attempts to rig the court based on political preferences. This constitutional amendment would ensure the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court for generations to come," he said in a statement.
The idea of expanding the court came up after the Republican-controlled Senate refused to give Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing in 2016. It gained traction after the Senate appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the court.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder said recently that the next Democratic president should "seriously" consider adding new seats to the court.
Several Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris, of California, and Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, told Politico they are at least willing to consider adding justices to the court.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, has also floated the idea of expanding the court and setting term limits for current justices.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., wants to take the court to 15 members — five each appointed by the Democratic and Republican parties and five unanimously named by the 10 appointed judges.
"The Democrats' court packing proposal represents the latest shortsighted effort to undermine America's confidence in our institutions and our democracy," Rubio said in a statement.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., introduced companion legislation in the House to limit the Supreme Court to nine justices.
A proposed constitutional amendment needs two-thirds majority votes in the House and Senate and ratification by 38 states to become law.