Law & the Courts

Dick Durbin Says There’s ‘No Serious Conversation’ Among Dems to Pack the Supreme Court

Sen. Dick Durbin, speaking during a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2020. (Carolyn Kaster/Reuters)

Senate Democratic whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) on Wednesday denied reports that Democrats are considering adding more justices to the Supreme Court if they win the Senate and White House, saying there is no “serious conversation” being held on the subject.

Calls for Democrats to pack the Court have mounted in retaliation over Republicans’ push to fill the vacancy left by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg weeks before the election.

“There’s no serious conversation among my colleagues about this prospect. It is speculative, it is in the future, if at all,” Durbin said on ABC’s Powerhouse Politics podcast.

“We’re focused on the job at hand which is to try to make certain that whoever fills this Supreme Court vacancy is someone who will respect the power of the court when it comes to things as basic as the health care of Americans. So this notion of looking at some structural change in the court I can just say is not a serious topic on Capitol Hill at this moment,” Durbin said.

In an interview on Monday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden refused to say whether he would pack the Supreme Court if he wins in November, saying, “It’s a legitimate question. But let me tell you why I’m not going to answer that question: because it will shift all the focus. That’s what [President Trump] wants. He never wants to talk about the issue at hand. He always tries to change the subject.”

After Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) appeared to garner enough Republican support this week to advance President Trump’s Court nominee to the Senate, Durbin conceded that Democrats are virtually powerless to stop the confirmation process at this point.

“We can certainly delay things, but only for limited periods of time,” he said. “It is possible … that some other Republican senators will have second thoughts as this progresses, but at this point it doesn’t look very promising.”

Democrats have criticized McConnell and other Senate Republicans for going back on the standard they set in 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia when Senate Republicans refused to vote on President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell had said then. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

However, McConnell said his current stance is not comparable to his position from 2016 as the Senate was held by Republicans while the president was a Democrat.

The push to fill the vacancy has led activists and progressives in Congress to call for changes to the Senate, including adding representation for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, ending the 60-vote filibuster for legislation, and packing the high court. 

Durbin, who has endorsed statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, said there have been bipartisan conversations among lawmakers about potential changes to the Senate that would not be as major as eliminating the legislative filibuster.

“We understand that there are ways to change the rules, one of those is to eliminate filibuster and make the Senate look like the House, but there are lots of gradations and lots of possibilities out there, short of what I just described,” he continued. “There’s going to be some serious thought about how effective the Senate is and can be under the current rules.”

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday that filling the Supreme Court vacancy ahead of the election would “spell the end” of the Senate.

“If, when push comes to shove, when the stakes are the highest, the other side will double-cross their own standards when it’s politically advantageous, tell me how this would not spell the end of this supposedly great deliberative body, because I don’t see how,” he continued.

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