The Judicial system is an intricate part of American democracy. It is expected to be mostly autonomous and removed from the continuous political squabbles that rock other functions of government. This expectation, however, contrasts from actuality. Both political parties have sought to interfere with the neutrality of the court system. This historically has been done through the appointment of Supreme Court judiciaries who are loyal to a specific party.
Supreme Court Judiciaries are appointed for life so the attitudes conveyed by these members can impact the country for decades to come. An executive privilege of the president is the ability to appoint these officials. In a perfect world, these appointees would take into consideration the opinion of all parties in order to best represent the attitudes of the public as a whole. Unfortunately, this is not the situation we are faced with, nor has it been in the past. The allure of skewing the judicial system in favor of the current president and his party’s standing has proved to be too strong to overlook. The tactic when performed successfully can lead to a lasting advantage for that group, with few ways to compensate for the tipped scales.
The average number of Supreme Court appointees per president is between two and three. Trump having appointed his first nominee early in his presidency now faces the opportunity to appoint another only a year and a half into his term. This combined with his history of controversial appointees in the past has Democrats worried that his choice could be less than qualified for the job, impacting the American people long after his presidency. With Republicans having the ability to reduce the votes to a simple majority, Democrats have no significant chance of rejecting Trump’s appointee regardless of his caliber. With this failing, there has been the discussion among Democrats of a possible failsafe option to ensure there is (what they believe to be) balance among the court system.
The practice of “court-packing” is what is considered a nuclear option- a drastic violation of the political norm. The last use of court-packing was in 1937 when President Franklin announced plans to expand the Supreme Court to as many as 15 judges. The idea behind this being that he would appoint judges who were friendly to his ideals, outnumbering judges who oppose his actions. While doing this was legal, it drew criticism not only from the opposing party but from a sizable portion of his own. Ultimately the attempt was abandoned and another solution used to balance the supreme court.
With Trump on his second judicial appointee, Democrats are scrambling to find ways to counteract Trump’s choice. Yet, while some find radical choices such as court-packing, others accept the appointments made by the Trump administration. Surely, they do not agree with the choices made, however, decisions are made that you must respect despite your disagreement. If the nuclear option was used, it could set a bad precedent. The loophole could potentially become abused and instability would surely ensue. Battles must be chosen wisely.
With this being said, Trump’s choice of an official isn’t necessarily going to wreak havoc. The last choice, Neil Gorsuch, while plainly conservative, is most definitely qualified for the job. Having graduated from Harvard and worked in the U.S Department of Justice as well as being appointed to the U.S Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. While he is clearly aligned with the Republican party’s ideals, his record conveys consistency and professionalism.
This is all to say that while we should be concerned about the quality of the candidates, the nuclear option of court-packing is not necessarily justified in this circumstance, especially with this only being his second appointment. To sink to such low levels would surely hurt the Democratic party more than it would help.