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Biden panel wary of Supreme Court expansion, but open to term limits


WASHINGTON – Proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court are facing skepticism from some members of the commission President Biden has appointed to consider overhauling the federal justice system. But there is something closer to a consensus that imposing term limits on judges is worth exploring.

Glimpses of the commission’s work came in some 200 pages of draft discussion papers released on Thursday. The committee warned that the documents were created by working groups to facilitate its deliberations and did not constitute recommendations or a reflection of its views.

Yet the documents indicated different assessments of the two most discussed proposals to change the structure of the Supreme Court.

“Commissioners are divided over whether it would make sense to expand the courts,” a draft document said. “The risks of the court’s expansion are considerable, including the fact that it could undermine the very objective of some of its supporters to restore the court’s legitimacy.

“Recent polls suggest that a majority of the public does not support the expansion of the courts,” the newspaper said. “And as even some proponents of expanding the courts acknowledged during the commission’s public hearings, the reform – at least if carried out in the short term and all at once – would be seen by many as a partisan maneuver. . “

In a recent interview, Judge Stephen G. Breyer said he was concerned about increasing the number of judges, saying it could erode public confidence in the court by sending the message that it is a political institution.

“Think twice about it,” he said of the proposal. “If A can do it, B can do it. And what are you going to have when you have A and B doing it? “

A second draft document from another working group, on the imposition of term limits for judges, took on a different tone.

“Among the Supreme Court reform proposals, the term limits for Supreme Court justices appear to enjoy the most widespread and bipartisan support,” the newspaper said.

“A bipartisan group of senior Supreme Court practitioners who testified before the commission concluded that an 18-year term” deserves serious consideration “,” he said, adding that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Breyer and Elena Kagan “noted the potential benefits of term limits.

Progressive groups have expressed frustration at what they called the committee’s overly cautious approach.

“It wasn’t even worth the wait,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. “The paralysis by analysis reflected here is exactly what you would expect from a commission made up mostly of academics, including several die-hard conservatives who are fully satisfied with the status quo.”

Conservative groups took the opposite view, claiming the commission was too aggressive.

“Far-left progressives are clearly trying to expand their political power under the guise of ‘court reform’, destroying the independence of our judicial system and threatening the civil liberties of all Americans,” said Kelly Shackelford , President of the First Liberty Institute.

The commission’s final report is expected on November 14.

Preliminary documents indicate that the two main proposals face different types of obstacles. While the narrow Democrat majorities would create a difficult path for any proposed tribunal changes at this time, Congress is free to expand the tribunal’s membership and has repeatedly changed its size. But imposing term limits is more complicated, and many scholars believe it would require a constitutional amendment.

“Members of the Commission are divided on whether Congress has the power to create a system of term limits by law,” the draft documents said. “Some believe it is possible; others believe that any legislative system would encounter so many constitutional problems that it would be unwise to do so.