Dem Senate Hopefuls Dodge on Court Packing

Bullock, Gideon, Peters fail to say whether they will pack court

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September 29, 2020

A trio of top Democratic Senate nominees dodged direct questions about whether they would support liberal proposals to pack the Supreme Court.

Asked during a Monday night debate if he would "vote for any changes" to the Supreme Court, including "increasing the size of the Court itself," Montana governor Steve Bullock (D.) refused to take a position. Bullock, who is running to unseat Sen. Steve Daines (R.), said that "we have to do what we can to take the politics out of the Supreme Court" but did not elaborate how he would do so.

Maine Democratic Senate nominee Sara Gideon also skirted questions on court packing in a Monday night debate against Sen. Susan Collins (R.). Asked to identify her support for "suggested reforms like term limits and more justices on the Court," Gideon stressed the need to focus on "how we get back to a judiciary that is independent once again" without offering any specifics.

Sen. Gary Peters' (D., Mich.) position on the issue is also unclear. He failed to rule out a Supreme Court expansion during a Friday television appearance, saying he would not "get into parlor games as to what the future may hold."

The Democrats' hesitance to take a definitive stance comes after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) warned that "everything is on the table" if Republicans confirm appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. While a number of Senate progressives, including Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii), have embraced the idea, court packing remains unpopular among voters, potentially undermining Schumer's ability to flip the upper chamber in November. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, just 32 percent of adults support increasing the number of Supreme Court justices.

Collins, who called court packing "one of the worst ideas for trying to make the Supreme Court less political," criticized Gideon for her vague response.

"Sara has refused to rule out packing the court," Collins said. "She's said, 'Well, maybe, I'm a bit skeptical of it but maybe we'll have to do it.' We'd like to know."

Bullock, Gideon, and Peters did not return requests for comment from the Washington Free Beacon asking them to clarify their stances.

Bullock said that expanding should be "on the table" during his failed presidential bid. His Senate campaign, however, backtracked on that in a recent statement. While the Democratic governor still does not rule out court packing, he now "doesn't believe that in this hyper-political time" it's "a conversation to be having" or "a solution to the challenges we face."

Gideon has also distanced herself from court packing without dismissing the idea entirely. The Democrat told Politico that "at this time," she has "doubts" that expanding the Supreme Court would make it "an independent body free from politics."

Other Democrats running in competitive 2020 races have come out against court packing in recent days, including Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Cal Cunningham (N.C.), and Theresa Greenfield (Iowa). Kentucky Senate nominee Amy McGrath, meanwhile, said that Supreme Court expansion is "definitely an option" during a Monday campaign event.

Justice Ginsburg criticized proposals to expand the Supreme Court in July 2019, saying "nine seems to be a good number, and it's been that way for a long time."