Apr 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Stephen Breyer says packing Supreme Court could diminish public trust

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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Photo: Paul Marotta/Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on Tuesday said efforts to expand the court's bench could damage public faith in the institution, stating that Americans rely on "a trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics," the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Former President Trump appointed three of the Court's nine justices — likely giving it a conservative bent for decades to come. Some Democrats have proposed expanding the court to balance the playing field.

The backdrop: Democrats argue two of Trump's appointees weren't fair play.

  • Trump's first appointee, Neil Gorsuch, got his seat after Senate Republicans blocked outgoing President Obama from nominating Merrick Garland in 2016, arguing that it was an election year.
  • But then in 2020, Senate Republicans allowed Trump to nominate now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett just weeks before the general election.

What he's saying: "If the public sees judges as ‘politicians in robes,’ its confidence in the courts, and in the rule of law itself, can only diminish, diminishing the court’s power, including its power to act as a ‘check’ on the other branches," Breyer, who often sides with the court's liberal justices, argued in a lecture at Harvard Law School.

  • He added: "The court’s decision in the 2000 presidential election case, Bush v. Gore, is often referred to as an example of its favoritism of conservative causes. But the court did not hear or decide cases that affected the political disagreements arising out of the 2020 Trump v. Biden election."

Of note: Breyer, 82, is under pressure to retire now while the Democrats have the White House and the Senate, in order to ensure that he's replaced by a liberal justice.

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