SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s two senators joined Senate Republicans in a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court condemning what they say is Democrats’ threat to restructure the high court.
In March, GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney signed on to a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to keep the U.S. Supreme Court at nine, the number since 1869. The Constitution allows Congress to decide how many justices sit on the Supreme Court.
Republicans senators, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, say in the letter that several Democrats included a threat to pack the Supreme Court in a recent friend-of-the-court brief in a New York City gun rights case. A petition before the court challenges a city law forbidding the transportation of locked, unloaded handguns, with few exceptions, as a violation of the Second Amendment.
Citing the last paragraph in the brief, Republican senators say Democrats “openly threatened” the court with “political retribution” if it fails to dismiss the case, according to the letter.
The paragraph reads:
“The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it. Perhaps the court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’ Particularly on the urgent issue of gun control, a nation desperately needs it to heal.”
Republicans say that the implication is “as plain as day: Dismiss this case, or we’ll pack the court.”
Senate Republicans write in the letter that the justices should rule in the case only as the law dictates, without regard to the identity of the parties or the politics of the moment.
“They must not be cowed by the threats of opportunistic politicians,” according to the letter.
“Court packing” is an idea some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have entertained, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“It’s one thing for politicians to peddle these ideas in tweets or on the stump,” the Republican senators wrote. “But the Democrats’ brief demonstrates that their court-packing plans are more than mere pandering. They are a direct, immediate threat to the independence of the judiciary and the rights of all Americans.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who wrote the friend-of-the-court brief in the New York case, said in a statement Thursday that the response from “Republicans and the partisan donor interests driving the court’s polarization shows exactly why it’s time to speak out. They want us to shut up about their capture of the court; we will not.”
Earlier this year, Lee said the Supreme Court has functioned “admirably” for nearly 150 years.
”To change that number now, for the barest of partisan reasons, would fundamentally delegitimize the court and throw our entire constitutional framework into question,” he said.
Romney said earlier that court-packing proposals are transparent attempts to rig the court based on political preferences. The proposed constitutional amendment would ensure the integrity and independence of the court for generations to come, he said.