Biden creates commission to study potential Supreme Court expansion

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

(Jonathan Ernst, File Photo, Reuters)

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Joe Biden on Friday ordered the creation of a bipartisan commission to study potential reforms to the Supreme Court, including whether to expand the number of justices.

In an executive order, Biden said the commission would tackle the "merits and legality" of specific high court reform proposals. Along with the contentious idea of expanding the court, reform advocates have recently pushed for term limits for the justices.

A White House official stressed that the commission's members represent the full political spectrum and "is intended to study the arguments both in favor of and against the reforms proposed in these areas."

Biden promised to establish the commission after coming under heavy pressure during his presidential campaign to act on reforming the Supreme Court. In part, that stemmed from former President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans moving quickly to fill liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat after her death less than two months before the election. Republicans previously refused to give former President Barack Obama's nominee Merrick Garland a hearing in 2016 when they still controlled the Senate.

In his single term, Trump named three justices to the high court, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority.

While Republicans have fiercely opposed increasing the size of the Supreme Court, many Democrats and progressive activists say all options must be considered to counter an entrenched conservative majority that could threaten access to healthcare, abortion, and civil rights.

Biden, who previously voiced opposition to "court packing," repeatedly refused to articulate a stance on the issue during the waning days of the presidential campaign, saying that people would learn how he felt about the issue only after the election.

The commission will be made up of a group of liberal and conservative legal scholars, former federal judges and lawyers who have appeared before the court. It will hold public meetings and have 180 days to report its findings.

The number of justices on the high court has remained at nine since 1869, but Congress has the power to change the size of the bench and did so several times before that.

Activist groups and Democrats have also broached the idea of imposing term limits for justices. This would likely require a constitutional amendment, though some scholars have proposed ways to accomplish term limits by statute.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Editing by Mark Heinrich and Rosalba O'Brien)

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