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Joe Biden Once Called Court-Packing ‘Bonehead Idea’: ‘Terrible, Terrible Mistake’

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Democrats will introduce a bill on Thursday to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court from 9 to 13 in a major attempt at reform of the nation’s highest court.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) will lead the introduction of the legislation while two members of Nadler’s committee, representatives Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mondaire Jones of New York, will be co-sponsors.

The move has once again put the spotlight on President Joe Biden who has previously expressed opposition to so-called “court-packing,” but recently announced the creation of a commission to examine potential reform of the court.

Biden has significant experience with Supreme Court nominations. He chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995. That committee oversees the confirmation hearings for the court’s justices.

In that capacity, he oversaw six nominations, including two of the most controversial—Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed and now sits on the court, and Robert Bork, who was famously rejected.

Remarks Biden made while a senator in 1983 have recently resurfaced. He was ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time and criticized then President Ronald Reagan’s attempt to replace three members of U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, comparing it to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s abortive efforts to add justices to the Supreme Court.

“President Roosevelt clearly had the right to send to the United States Senate and the United States Congress a proposal to pack the court. It was totally within his right to do that. He violated no law. He was legalistically, absolutely correct,” Biden said at the time.

“But it was a bonehead idea,” Biden went on. “It was a terrible, terrible mistake to make. And it put in question, for an entire decade, the independence of the most significant body—including the Congress included in my view—in this country, the Supreme Court of the United States of America.”

Biden’s 1983 comments were highlighted by Fox News, which shared CSPAN footage of his remarks.

During the 2020 presidential election, Biden caused some controversy when he initially refused to be drawn on the question of expanding the court.

“You’ll know my opinion on court-packing when the election is over,” Biden said on October 8 in response to a question about the matter.

“It’s a great question, and I don’t blame you for asking. But you know, the moment I answer that question, the headline in every one of your papers will be on the answer to that question,” he said.

Amid criticism of that response, he told an ABC News townhall event on October 15 that voters “do have a right to know where I’ll stand and they’ll have a right to know where I stand before they vote.”

On October 13, Biden told Cincinnati’s WKRC he was “not a fan” of expanding the Supreme Court in comments that have since been extensively quoted. However, Biden promised to create a committee of experts to study the issue while on the campaign trail—a promise he began to fulfill last week.

Biden’s past opposition to expanding the court is likely to become a flashpoint as Democrats move toward significant reform. The bill is set to be announced on Thursday outside the Supreme Court building.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden has previously criticized the idea of expanding the Supreme Court.
Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

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