Democratic challengers in key Senate contests are rejecting court packing, breaking with their party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who is dodging questions about his support for expanding the Supreme Court to dilute conservative influence.
Liberal activists are calling on Biden to pack the court with more seats if he wins the White House and Democrats seize the Senate. The former vice president refused to take a position on the issue Tuesday evening during his first debate with President Trump. But Democrats running in a half-dozen critical states quickly declared their opposition, exposing an intraparty rift that highlights how large the issue looms in the battle with Republicans for Senate control.
“Court packing for the Democrats is a very dangerous issue,” said Larry Ceisler, a Democratic public affairs consultant in Pennsylvania. “It’s a sure-fire issue for Republicans.”
Trump nominated conservative federal appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme court to succeed liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18. Senate Republicans are vowing to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Outraged Democrats say Republicans are being brazenly hypocritical.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed conservative Justice Antonin Scalia after he died in February 2016. The Kentucky Republican said then that Supreme Court confirmations should halt in election years when the Senate and White House are controlled by opposing parties. Grassroots liberals are pushing congressional Democrats to retaliate by packing the Supreme Court to reduce a conservative majority that will reach 6 – 3 with Barrett confirmed.
But Democrats challenging incumbent Republican senators in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina are not interested. And Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat facing a stiff challenge from Republican John James, also opposes court packing. These Democrats believe the scheme distracts from issues that they argue appeal to voters — that abortion and Obamacare could be ruled unconstitutional, and that Republicans who opposed Obama’s 2016 nominee but plan to confirm Barrett are acting in bad faith.
“Mark opposes adding justices to the court,” said Jacob Peters, a spokesman for Mark Kelly, the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona.
Additionally, campaign aides to Jon Ossoff, a Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. David Perdue in Georgia; Democratic nominee Theresa Greenfield, challenging Republican Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa; Democratic nominee Sara Gideon, challenging Republican Sen. Susan Collins in Maine; and Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham, challenging Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina, all confirmed to the Washington Examiner their candidates oppose court packing.
A few Democratic Senate candidates are sitting on the fence: John Hickenlooper, challenging Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado; Gov. Steve Bullock, challenging Republican Sen. Steve Daines in Montana and Jaime Harrison, challenging Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Like Biden, they claim taking a position on packing the court would divert attention from the GOP rush to confirm Barrett, and the ramifications of expanding the court’s conservative majority.
What all Democrats seem to agree on is that Barrett is personally is off limits, and criticism must be confined to her judicial temperament and the Senate process. They appear chastened by the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh two years ago amid controversial hearings that helped Republicans gain two Senate seats in the midterm elections.
Democrats contend confirmation this close to the election deprives voters the right to influence the makeup of the Supreme Court. They also warn that popular federal mandates that force insurance companies to cover preexisting medical conditions are in jeopardy.
Republicans say Democrats from Biden on down are trying to hide their support for court packing, and predict they will fall in line with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, regardless of the position they take on the campaign trail.
Schumer has said “all options” are “on the table” if Republicans push through Barrett’s nomination.
“They don’t want to deal with controversy over the next five weeks,” said Jesse Hunt, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “You’ve already heard Senate Democrats plot to address this more substantially after the election, and these candidates won’t hesitate to fall in line with their political benefactor Chuck Schumer.”