Supreme Court commission submits report to White House with no recommendation on 'packing'

John Fritze

WASHINGTON – A White House commission created to study expansion of the Supreme Court voted Tuesday to send its final report to President Joe Biden, who has already signaled little interest in spending political capital to embrace the idea. 

The nearly 300-page document noted "profound disagreement" over expanding the size of the nine-member court and it does not make a recommendation about the idea, an outcome that will give Biden political cover to sidestep progressive Democrats who hoped adding members would limit the power of the court's 6-3 conservative majority.

Biden's commission finished its work as the Supreme Court is considering several high-profile cases that have captured the nation's attention, including a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. A series of polls, meanwhile, have indicated slipping support for the high court

More:Biden unveils commission to study changes at Supreme Court 

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The White House declined this week to say when Biden will review the document.

"In terms of when – how and when the president will review it and what that means, I will give him the space to do that," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. 

Biden has repeatedly sent signals that he has little interest in focusing on changes to the Supreme Court. The creation of the commission itself was widely viewed as an effort to keep that idea at arm's length during the 2020 presidential campaign, even as both parties have used it to fire up their political bases and goose fundraising.

Demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021.

A draft report from the commission released earlier this year seemed to indicate some support for the idea of term limits for the justices, who currently serve for life. But when Biden was asked in October whether he backs that idea he responded flatly: "No." 

The report said that if the court continues to livestream audio of its oral arguments that "would be a step toward enabling the media and interested members of the bar and the public to better follow the work of the court." The practice began during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the court recently said it will continue streaming at least through early March. 

The report also signaled widespread support for the court adopting a code of conduct, which it currently does not have. 

Chief Justice John Roberts asserted in a report in 2011 that Congress has no authority to impose a code of ethics on the Supreme Court, only on lower federal courts. Associate Justice Elena Kagan told lawmakers during a hearing in 2019 that Roberts was weighing a code of conduct for the high court, but it's not clear what, if any, progress has been made in the years since.