Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday pointedly ducked several questions about whether a Biden-Harris administration would try to “pack” the Supreme Court to dilute what could become a solid conservative majority on the court.
“People are voting right now, they would like to know if you and Joe Biden are going to pack the Supreme Court if you don’t get your way in this nomination,” Vice President Mike Pence demanded of Harris during the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, referencing the pending nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court that is all but certain to be pushed through in the three weeks before Election Day.
Harris sidestepped the question just as her Democratic running mate, former Vice President Joe Biden, has done in the weeks since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and President Donald Trump vowed to confirm a replacement. Biden is on record before September as opposing packing the court.
“I’m so glad we went through a little history lesson. Let’s do that a little more,” Harris responded to one of Pence’s first attempts to pin her down on the question, which included noting that the court has had its current makeup of nine justices for around 150 years.
Harris rebutted Pence by pointing just as far back in history, when President Abraham Lincoln opted not to fill a Supreme Court vacancy when it arose less than a month before the 1864 election, despite his party controlling the majority in the Senate.
“Honest Abe said it’s not the right thing to do,” Harris argued. “The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States, and then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of our land. And so Joe and I are very clear. The American people are voting right now, and it should be their decision about who will serve on this most important body for a lifetime.”
The prospect of expanding the Supreme Court to add more liberal justices to balance out the court’s ideological makeup, as well as other judicial reforms like term limits, have grown immensely in popularity in some parts of the Democratic Party.
Some proponents have accused Republicans of “stealing” a seat on the court by blocking President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court in 2016, and have called for a more aggressive response to the hundreds of lower-court judges confirmed by the Trump administration.
Barrett, if confirmed, would be Trump’s third appointment to the nation’s highest court.
But many of the Democratic Party’s leaders have shunned the idea, arguing that tinkering with the number of justices would not stop Republicans from doing the same later on, and noting that recent past efforts to expand the court have failed.
In Wednesday’s debate, Pence seized on what he called a “nonanswer” from Harris, looking directly into the camera and asserting that “if you haven’t figured it out yet, the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election.”
“Yeah, let’s talk about packing the court, then,” Harris retorted, accusing the Trump administration of filling lower courts with judges who are “purely ideological,” and pointing out that in some instances legal professional organizations had deemed a number of Trump’s nominees “unqualified” to be federal judges.
“And do you know that of the 50 people who President Trump appointed to the court of appeals for lifetime appointments, not one is Black?” the senator added. “This is what they’ve been doing. You want to talk about packing the court? Let’s have that discussion.”