Progressive calls to add seats to the U.S. Supreme Court gained fresh urgency Monday after Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested he would block President Joe Biden from filling a potential high court vacancy if Republicans wrest back control of the upper chamber in next year’s midterms.
Speaking to right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt, McConnell (R-Ky.) said that if he becomes Senate majority leader after the midterms, it is “highly unlikely” that he would allow Biden to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2024.
McConnell also refused to commit to allowing a confirmation vote on any Biden Supreme Court nominee in 2023, despite it being a non-election year.
“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” the Kentucky Republican said.
McConnell’s comments hardly surprised Democratic lawmakers and progressive activists who remember all too well the GOP leader’s refusal to even allow a hearing on Merrick Garland in 2016, when the current attorney general was nominated by then-President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance,” tweeted Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), referring to the Kentucky Republican’s obstruction of Garland as well as the GOP’s successful confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett just eight days out from the 2020 presidential election.
“He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again,” Markey added. “We need to expand the Supreme Court.”
Markey is the lead Senate sponsor of the Judiciary Act of 2021, bicameral legislation that aims to counter right-wing dominance of the Supreme Court by adding four seats to the body, bringing the total to 13.
But Biden has thus far declined to back calls to expand the Supreme Court, opting instead to form a 36-member commission tasked with studying reform ideas, including the addition of seats.
“We don’t have time to wait for a commission of academics to publish a pro-con list,” Demand Justice, an advocacy group focused on reforming the U.S. judicial system, said Monday. “Expand the court now.”
The possibility of Republicans winning back control of the Senate in next year’s midterms has prompted calls for Justice Stephen Breyer—who, at 82, is the oldest sitting Supreme Court judge—to retire so that Biden can name his replacement while Democrats still hold the upper chamber.
Asked during a CNN appearance on Sunday if she believes Breyer should retire from the bench, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said she is “inclined to say yes.”
Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the Judiciary Act, took the same position in response to McConnell’s remarks on Monday.
“When I became the first person in Congress to call for Justice Breyer to retire now, while President Biden can still appoint a successor, some people asked whether it was necessary,” Jones tweeted. “Yes. Yes, it is.”
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