Former attorney general Eric Holder believes Democrats should consider packing the courts by adding two additional justices to the United States Supreme Court.
During a discussion at Yale Law School sponsored by the Yale Law National Security Group on Thursday, Holder elaborated on how that more aggressive approach might work in terms of policy.
A questioner brought up Holder’s rejection of the high-minded Michelle Obama motto (“When they go low, we go high) and asked what Democrats should do with their political power in 2021 in the event of Republicans “going low.”
In response, Holder said that if he were president, he would “seriously consider adding two seats to the Supreme Court to make up for [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell‘s power-grabbing antics.”
Holder’s comments were initially tweeted out by the group Pack the Courts–a recently established political advocacy organization which aims to do exactly what its name suggests: add additional justices to the nation’s high court.
Sean McElwee, largely known for leading the charge within the Democratic Party to embrace the #AbolishICE movement, and the group’s director of research and polling, retweeted the news as well but suggested there was probably no video of the exchange in a message to Law&Crime.
Eric Holder’s spokesperson Patrick Rodenbush later confirmed the comments in a statement to Law&Crime:
In response to a question, former Attorney General Holder said that given the unfairness, unprecedented obstruction, and disregard of historical precedent by Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans, when Democrats retake the majority they should consider expanding the Supreme Court to restore adherence to previously accepted norms for judicial nominations. He views this as a corrective.
Pack the Courts responded favorably to Holder’s comments in a statement.
“The Supreme Court dismantled the Voting Rights Act, allowed a flood of dark money to corrupt our politics, and permitted hyper-partisan gerrymandering to rig the system against voters,” said the group’s campaign manager Kate Kendell. “Because the Court has undermined the institutions of democracy, court packing is the only way to restore the integrity of the political system. Attorney General Holder’s positive remarks about court packing today underscore the importance of judicial reform as the 2020 campaign kicks into high gear. To be taken seriously, presidential candidates must explain how they will restore democracy over the objections of a hostile and partisan Court.”
Ramis J. Wadood is a Yale Law Student and Pack the Courts activist who attended the discussion. While he was welcoming of Holder’s comments, Wadood clarified that the group’s goals are a bit more ambitious than the two additional justices suggested by the former attorney general.
“Pack the Courts has been at the forefront of this push for meaningful judicial reform,” Wadood said in a message to Law&Crime. “Our mission is to urge Democrats like Attorney General Holder to expand the size of lower courts and add four seats to the Supreme Court after regaining control of the White House and Congress in 2021.”
The concept of packing the courts is not new. Former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously attempted to add additional seats to the Supreme Court at the height of the New Deal via the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937–which was ultimately unsuccessful due to stalling tactics employed by conservative Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There is no fixed number of Supreme Court justices mandated by the U.S. Constitution and the number can easily be increased–or decreased–by simple majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. The last time the number of justices on the court shifted was in the late nineteenth century via the Judiciary Act of 1869.
[image via Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images]