The nine justices of the United State Supreme Court. A bill crafted by Democratic lawmakers would expand the High Court from nine to 13. (Courtesy Photo)

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter

Last month, some Democratic members of the House of Representatives introduced legislation to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices in an effort to transform the court.

The 45th President of the United States and Republicans were able to appoint three conservative judges to the High Court in the span of four short years. One of those judges Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed just days before the 2020 election.

The Democratic bill is led by Sen. Ed Markey of Mass., and Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. And although Congress can expand the Court through legislation, passage of the bill into law would be an arduous, uphill battle in the opinion of most.

On April 15, the day the legislation was formally introduced, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters she has “no plans to bring it to the floor.”

Still, the prospect of expanding the Supreme Court from nine to 13, although perhaps politically implausible is a compelling possibility in the minds of some legal experts.

“I would like to see that happen,” said prominent Baltimore defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit. “Because the Republicans did everything illegal in my opinion, Constitutionally by not confirming Garland (Merrick Garland, who is currently the U.S. Attorney General) to the Supreme Court. Because they did that, they were able to get a majority on the Supreme Court, which was totally unfair because they just ignored and blocked President Obama’s appointment,” added Pettit, a long-time observer of the Supreme Court. Despite the efforts of Republicans, characterized as unfair or even unlawful by many Democrats and Progressives, many High Court watchers scoff at the possibility that their effort will be successful given the minute majority margins Democrats are currently operating with.

“From all I hear and read, it seems that expanding the Court is unlikely,” said Kenneth Jost, a legal scholar and author of Supreme Court Yearbook and The Supreme Court A to Z.

“Going to 13 justices is a bridge too far. Even just one more justice is unlikely to clear the evenly divided Senate.”

Another veteran Baltimore defense attorney believes the endeavor by Democrats to pack the Court could turn out to be politically disastrous for their party ultimately.

“Unless they want the other party, once the pendulum has swung back their way, to tamper with the court they should abandon the idea,” attorney Warren Brown told the AFRO.

Yet, Pettit argues it is imperative for Democrats to seize the day and perhaps worry about the political machinations later.

“That’s how hardball politics goes,” said Pettit. “The problem is Republicans will play hardball politics and the Democrats…they play softball politics,” he added.

“And so, we’re in power now and we need to seize the moment while we have the power. We can’t play with these people, they are serious and they play hardball.”


Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor