SCOTUS Commission Members Express Concerns Over Proposals Discussed in Final Report

Last week, the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court approved its final report to be sent to President Joe Biden. Fox News reported:

The Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of approving its final report and sending it to President Biden's desk.

The vote concluded the work of the 34-member commission, which held six public meetings and called on 44 witnesses. Biden, who has expressed opposition to expanding the court, formed the commission in April to study court expansion and reform amid calls from some within the Democratic Party to add more justices.

The final draft of the 288-page report, which drew vocal opposition regarding some of its conclusions, was released Monday and stopped short of offering specific recommendations. Instead, it offered a summary of arguments for and against issues ranging from court-packing and judicial term limits to various elements of court practice.

While the Commission's report was adopted unanimously, the White House has released two separate statements from three commissioners who wished to express their own concerns with the proposals discussed in the final report.

The first statement was issued by Commissioners Thomas Griffith and David Levi. Both men previously served as federal judges. Griffith and Levi discussed their wariness of the proposals discussed in the report which failed to account for the "historic success" of the Court and the nonpartisan nature of the judiciary: 

Because the Commission was charged with examining proposals by critics of the Court, it might be lost on some that we are examining one of the most, if not the most, effective and justly admired of our institutions. Any proposal to change the role or structure of the Court that fails to take into account its historic success in preserving the rule of law falls short of the mark. We are wary of such proposals, especially those that assume that judging is little more than a political act to advance favored interests. Such proposals misapprehend the role of a judge under the Constitution and do damage to public confidence in the Supreme Court and the courts more generally.

In our view, most of the proposed reforms discussed in the Commission report— including “court packing” and term limits— are without substantial merit; they are not related to any defect or deficiency in the Court or its procedures and they threaten judicial independence. We must not permit the Supreme Court to become collateral damage in the divisiveness that marks the current age. Nor should we fundamentally alter the Court because of disappointment in particular decisions of the Court. There is far more at stake than the outcome of any case.

This is a time in our national history for Americans to protect their constitutional institutions and the precious legacy handed down to us. Democracies are fragile. Even as we may discuss possible reforms, let us do so in the spirit of supporting and defending our Supreme Court and all of our courts as essential components of the rule of law and our great experiment in democracy. 

Judge Griffin joined Dana Perino to discuss his and Judge Levi's statement.

Commissioner Adam White, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote the second statement. Specifically, he explained the dangers he sees stemming from the discussions on court-packing, term limits, and reform, restraint, and self-restraint found in the report. 

On court-packing, he wrote:

Court-packing is anathema to constitutional government. While Congress is empowered by the Constitution to add seats to the Court, the history of Court expansion is one of admirable self-restraint by Congress. Over the nation’s first century, Congress largely set the Court’s size by reference to the judiciary’s genuine needs, particularly in terms of the justices’ old circuit-riding duties in a fast-growing continental republic. Since 1869, the Court’s size has remained stable, and for one and a half centuries the nine-justice bench has proved conducive to the justices’ work of deliberation, decision, and explanation.

To pack the Court would impair the Court, not improve it: destabilizing it, further politicizing it, and complicating its basic work of hearing and deciding cases under the rule of law. And one needs a willing suspension of disbelief not to see that Court-packing would inaugurate an era of re-packing, destroying the Court’s function and character as a court of law.

As calls are renewed in the coming months for changes to the Judiciary for political purposes, the words of these commissioners will ring true. Commissioners Griffith, Levi, and White should be applauded for their willingness to push back against the politicization of the Supreme Court.