Last week, President Biden signed an executive order to set up a commission dedicated to studying possible reforms to the Supreme Court, including an increase in the number of justices on the bench. Congressional Democrats, however, aren't waiting for the results of the panel's report due out in six months, instead moving to introduce legislation Thursday on expansion of the court. The bill, led by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Jerry Nadler, proposes upping the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to 13—a move that can only be carried out via an act of Congress. The legislation is a reaction to what NBC News calls "an undercurrent of progressive fury" after then-President Obama nominated Merrick Garland in March 2016 to fill Antonin Scalia's spot after the latter had died, and Mitch McConnell, then the GOP Senate majority leader, denied a vote on Garland.
McConnell's reasoning: It was an election year, and he felt the incoming president should be the one to fill Scalia's slot, which Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch eventually took. Democrats' anger was further stoked when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September and the GOP swept Amy Coney Barrett onto the bench just days before the 2020 election. "This bill marks a new era where Democrats finally stop conceding the Supreme Court to Republicans," political activist Brian Fallon says, per NBC News. The Intercept notes that the number of seats on the court bounced around earlier on in US history, going up to 10 before falling back to nine in 1869, where it's stayed since. NBC and Vox note the bill is unlikely to become law in the near future, with the GOP pushing back hard against it as a radical move. Biden himself has wavered on fully supporting such an expansion, though he hopes to receive some clarity from his newly formed commission. (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)