2020 Democratic candidates interviewed by the New York Times split on their openness to expanding the Supreme Court from its current slate of nine justices.
Ten candidates expressed openness to the idea that has gained traction on the left in the wake of President Donald Trump's two successful Supreme Court nominations in his first term.
Eleven candidates opposed the idea. Some of them, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), cited Franklin D. Roosevelt's failed efforts to add Supreme Court justices in the 1930s. Others noted it would provoke Republicans to add more justices when they retook the presidency, and it would fail to ameliorate political tensions around the confirmation of judges.
Adding justices would require new legislation to re-establish the court's size. Article III of the Constitution does not specify the Supreme Court have nine justices, but the Judiciary Act of 1869 was the most recent legislation to establish its current size as one chief justice and eight associate justices.
The Times interviewed 21 of the 24 declared Democratic candidates. Former vice president Joe Biden declined to be interviewed. Biden said in 1983 that the notion of court-packing was a "bonehead idea."
AGAINST EXPANDING SUPREME COURT
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet
"I don't think the American people have been prepared to expand the Supreme Court. I think it would meet with the same fate as when Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the court."
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
"I worry about people that want to rush to expanding the Supreme Court, because I worry where does that stop? It's a race to the bottom."
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
"I don't believe that expanding the size of the Supreme Court is the answer, and one of the reasons for that is if Democrats go and expand the size of the Supreme Court tomorrow, what's to say that five years from now, that Republicans won't expand the size of the Supreme Court again to gain a partisan advantage."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
"I do not think expanding the Supreme Court makes sense, and I'll tell you why. Because of history. I admire so greatly Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but he tried it, and it backfired in so many ways. I think there's some things we have to say are set, and we have to work politically to make the changes we need."
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney
"If we grow the Supreme Court during my presidency … then we just have to expect that'll happen when the Republicans are in power. So I don’t favor doing things that really are against the norms in our society just for short-term political reasons."
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
"I don’t think that expanding the size of the Supreme Court solves the problem that we’re facing, where the court has increasingly become a partisan, political entity."
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke
"I don't know that expanding the size of the Supreme Court is the best way to address legitimate concerns we have with its objectivity, given the issues that it will decide."
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan
"No. No, I think the Supreme Court should stay at nine. … To think that we're going to be able to change the size of the Supreme Court or get rid of the Electoral College or any of these other issues I think is moving us away from the real arguments that can help us win the elections that we need to win and win the election that's coming up in 2020."
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
"I think Roosevelt tried that in the 1930s, didn't work so well for him. Packing the courts is a great idea when you’re in power, not such a great idea when your political opponents are in power. So if you go from 9 to 13 and 13 to 17—it never ends. I am open to the idea of rotating judges out of the Supreme Court into courts of appeals, for example, to allow them to get a new look at the real world that is out there. But I am not in favor of packing the courts."
California Rep. Eric Swalwell
"No. I want to win. The best way to get a court that's fair and qualified—as we say in the Bay Area, just win, baby. And I don't want to use expanding the Supreme Court or getting rid of the Electoral College as an alibi for failing to go to places where we need to win."
Author Marianne Williamson
"I'm not convinced that expanding the size of the Supreme Court is going to fix anything. Because I think that the same drama will play out."
SUPPORTS OR IS OPEN TO EXPANDING SUPREME COURT
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
"I'd love to think that it is a nonpolitical organization or entity … so I am open to trying to say how can we actually make sure that that court isn't reflective of politics, is actually doing its job as the third branch of government, and expanding the court might be one way."
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg
"I believe we need to reform the Supreme Court, but it's not just about the number of justices," said Buttigieg, who has floated having 15 justices, five chosen unanimously by 10 others that were politically appointed. "The point is not how many justices are on the court. … The point is how do we change the trajectory of the court away from being viewed as an increasingly political institution."
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
"Expanding the size of the Supreme Court is something I am thinking about right now. I haven't got through all the impacts of that … but I want to think more about it and do more research about what legal scholars believe the impact of that would be."
California Sen. Kamala Harris
"I am open to that discussion. I'm open to it. I'm absolutely open to it."
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
"I'm open to it, but again, the Founding Fathers put this country together, we created a Constitution and a Bill of Rights and a system by which we manage our democracy, and if we're going to change significant parts of that, we should do so carefully."
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
"I’m open to any idea that can make sure a woman’s right of choice is protected, including a civil rights law by statute that would protect a woman's right of choice … There are some new ideas about the potential of having Court of Appeals judges participate on the Supreme Court. I think these are worthy of consideration."
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
"I am open to it. It depends on what happens with the Senate, if that's realistic. I think my much more practical focus will be on immediately, when I become president, filling open judgeships with people who actually have said they will follow existing precedent and follow the law."
Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton
"I am open to that. The fact of the matter is that the Republicans have played hardball with us, and we haven’t played hardball in return. I don't know if the goal at the end of the day should be expanding the size of the Supreme Court, but we absolutely have to have that on the table."
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
"I'm open. The point is, there are a lot of different ways to do it. The number of people on the Supreme Court is not constitutionally constricted, but it's one of the things that we could certainly talk about."
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
"It would make total sense to institute a term limit of 18 years, and it would also make total sense to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court, because then when someone stepped down, it would become less of a political crisis or firestorm … So the answer is yes, I would obviously consider having more justices on the Supreme Court."