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Sen. Mitt Romney among senators proposing constitutional amendment to stop ‘court packing’

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In this Nov. 6, 2020, file photo, the Supreme Court is seen at sundown in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

A group of Republican senators, include Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, renewed their call Monday for a constitutional amendment to limit the U.S. Supreme Court to nine justices.

The legislation to prevent Democratic “court packing”comes as progressive activists put pressure on President Joe Biden to get going on the bipartisan Supreme Court reform commission idea he floated during the campaign.

“It remains imperative that we continue to resist efforts to pack the Supreme Court and treat it as if it is one of the elected branches of government,” Romney, R-Utah, said in a statement. “Our society is only as strong as its institutions, and I hope my colleagues will join us in our effort to ensure the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court.”

The Constitution allows Congress to decide how many justices sit on the Supreme Court. The court has had nine seats since 1869.

The idea of expanding the court came up after the Republican-controlled Senate refused to give Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing in 2016. It gained traction after the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the court. It picked up further after former President Donald Trump’s third conservative nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was appointed last fall.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including now Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said during the campaign that they were at least willing to consider adding justices to the court.

Biden proposed forming a commission near the end of the presidential campaign in October after Trump nominated Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But he stopped short of endorsing expansion of the court, saying at the time, “I’m not a fan of court packing.”

Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee condemned court packing during Barrett’s confirmation hearings. He said then if Democrats were to increase the number of justices, Republicans would expand on that number when they had the chance.

“Before long it would look like the Senate in ‘Star Wars’ where you’ve got hundreds of people on there,” he said.

Increasing the number of justices delegitimizes the court and does “immense” political and constitutional harm to the U.S. system of government, Lee said. Having nine justices, he added, ensures the separation of powers among the branches of government.

The liberal group Demand Justice launched a television ad campaign over the weekend calling for the need to “rebalance” a Supreme Court that has become “too partisan and too political.” It favors adding four justices to the court and imposing term limits on justices.

Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, of California, said he “absolutely” supports expanding or “in my mind balancing” the Supreme Court.

“Anybody who has criticized those proposals and reframe it as stacking ... stacking is what McConnell and Trump have been doing the last several years,” he told the Washington Post.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said packing the court is a “radical, left-wing idea” that would further undermine the nation’s confidence in its institutions and democracy.

”As a candidate, President Joe Biden promised to unify America, and even said he was ‘not a fan’ of packing the Supreme Court, a radical proposal he once referred to as a ‘bonehead idea’ when he served in the Senate. If he is sincere about healing our country and protecting our institutions, he will support this effort to protect the Supreme Court,” Rubio said in statement.

Led by Rubio, the senators first introduced the proposed constitutional amendment in March 2019.

Co-sponsors of the new bill include Sens. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Todd Young, R-Ind., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Pat Toomey, R-Penn., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and John Cornyn, R-Texas.