The Supreme Court Controversy of 2020
By: Amanda Edge '22 and Catherine Onorato '22
In the weeks immediately following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, America was swept into debate over what was to come next. The Republican-controlled Senate moved swiftly in confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett within weeks of Justice Ginsburg’s death, securing a 6-3 conservative majority in the Court. Democrats opposed the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Barrett, citing the fact that when the same situation arose at the end of President Obama’s term presidency, no Justice was voted onto the Court.
Now that the Supreme Court is swinging heavily to the right, Democrats, specifically progressive Democrats, are hoping that Vice President Joe Biden can secure the 2020 election and “pack the court.” Vice President Biden has long been in opposition to the process of court-packing, however, in recent weeks he has remained silent on his current stance on the issue, so many Americans are uncertain about where his campaign currently stands on the matter. Mr. Garikes, an Upper School History teacher, explained to us in an interview what the process might look like for Joe Biden. “If Joe Biden wanted to pack the Court he would have allies in the House introduce a law, a bill that would simply be a piece of legislation. And it would require only a majority vote of the House and of the Senate. So, if the Democrats hold onto the House, and all indications are that the Democrats will control the house, if they are able to capture the Senate and Vice President Biden becomes President Biden, with help of the majority of Democrats then you could pass a bill out of the House and the Senate which the president would sign and it could increase the number on the court from nine to thirteen.”
Packing the Court would mean that additional Justices would be added to the Supreme Court; a concept that many are wary of as it is something that we have not seen in our lifetimes. We discussed with Ms. Hardwick, an Upper School History teacher, about the constitutionality of court-packing and any historical precedents for this matter. She explained, “It is not unconstitutional, it has been done many times, and it’s written into the constitution that you can do that.” She went on to explain Article Three of The Constitution, which outlined the judiciary branch of government, it’s interesting to note here that there is no mention of how many Justices are to serve on the court at a time, making adding a Justice perfectly legal. Also, the number of Justices serving on the supreme court has fluctuated over time. Ms. Hardwick explains that the court “starts off with 6 with the judiciary act of 1789, John Adams tries to get it down to 5… under Thomas Jefferson, we get it up to 7” also, “We briefly get 10 during the civil war from 1863-1866 and then post-civil war we go back to 7 and then in 1869 we get 9, and it's been 9 since 1869.”
So many are wondering, why the urge to add more Justices in 2020? It comes with the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, a conservative Justice appointed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the court’s most progressive and liberal Justices. Coney Barrett’s nomination was a whirlwind, as she was nominated just one day after RBG was honored in the U.S. Capitol, and confirmed only weeks later. One of the major issues that the Senate minority had with Barrett’s nomination was the precedent that Republicans had set in 2016, at the end of President Obama’s term when former Justice Antonin Scalia died. At that time, Republicans blocked Obama’s nomination to the Court under the premise that it was too close to the election. For this reason, many view the Senate Republican’s actions in 2020 as hypocritical.
When asked if he personally thought that Coney Barrett’s nomination was rushed, Mr. Garikes said “Yeah, no doubt it was rushed… Now there have been Justices appointed in a smaller window of time, but right before an election like this? No, that was unprecedented. And I also think what added to it was that Republicans had blocked President Obama's nominee with 10 months left in an election year…Just call it what it is- they’re doing it because they have the political power. the hypocrisy seems very blatant.” He added, “As someone who’s identified as Republican for a great amount of my life, I didn’t support that; I thought we should’ve waited until the election.”
Despite all of this controversy, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court in late October, making her the youngest person to serve on the Supreme Court, and only the 5th female to ever have served on the Court. Barrett will soon be reviewing cases regarding LGBT rights, the Affordable Care Act, and the 2020 Presidential election, among others, and America will take the backseat as she helps to decide major issues in our nation.