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Biden to order bipartisan commission to study Supreme Court expansion

Members of the media set up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington.

Al Drago | Reuters

President Joe Biden on Friday will order a bipartisan commission to study a slew of potential reforms to the U.S. Supreme Court, including the politically volatile question of whether the high court should be expanded.

The new commission, which comprises dozens of legal scholars and others, will also examine the “length of service and turnover of justices,” the White House said Friday in a press release announcing the executive order.

The group will hold public meetings to hear “varied perspectives on the issues it will be examining” and will issue a report within 180 days after the first meeting is held, the White House said.

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“This action is part of the Administration’s commitment to closely study measures to improve the federal judiciary, including those that would expand access [to] the court system,” the press release said.

The order marks the fulfillment of Biden’s campaign promise to convene a group of experts to look into the myriad debates about the Supreme Court’s structure.

Then-candidate Biden had refused to explicitly rule out the idea of adding members to the nine-seat bench, raising the hackles of Republicans who staunchly oppose the prospect of “court packing” by the president.

Beyond the size of the Supreme Court and the length of service, the commission will delve into topics as broad as the court’s role in the U.S. constitutional system itself, according to the press release. It will also look at “the genesis of the reform debate” and the court’s “case selection, rules, and practices,” the White House said.

Justices confirmed to the high court serve lifetime appointments, and the court’s opinions are decided by majority.

Former President Donald Trump selected three associate justices in a single term in office, swinging the ideological makeup of the court sharply to the right. Trump’s final nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, was sworn in just eight days before the election Trump lost to Biden.

The court’s solidly conservative 6-3 majority could hold for years to come.

Biden as a presidential candidate had been circumspect about whether he’d even entertain a debate on expanding the court.

The death of liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last September set off a political firestorm, with Trump and Republicans scrambling to fill her seat before Election Day and Democrats demanding the selection process be delayed.

The GOP warned before polls closed that Biden if elected would seek to pack the courts, while progressives heaped pressure on Biden to commit to doing just that.

In October, Biden said he was “not a fan of court packing,” adding, “I don’t want to get off on that whole issue.”

The White House on Friday said the new commission would be co-chaired by New York University School of Law professor and ex-White House counsel Bob Bauer and Yale Law School professor Cristina Rodriguez.