Pete Buttigieg’s announcement of a Supreme Court–packing plan is surprising in ways both small and large.
The surprise comes less from the specifics of the proposal than from its circumstances. Buttigieg has been conspicuously cautious about policy initiatives, so his decision to center a sweeping revamp of the high court represents an unusually bold maneuver for the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s presidential campaign. Moreover, the rollout exemplifies how the Supreme Court, once a somewhat tangential concern for many Democrats, has moved to the center of the agenda in the Trump era.
The details of Buttigieg’s plan are interesting in an academic sense, though unlikely to really set the parameters for any rearrangement of the Court. Based on a forthcoming paper by two law professors, his plan would expand the Court from nine justices to 15, five of them Democrats, five Republicans, and five unaffiliated. NBC’s Josh Lederman explains that those last five would be chosen from federal courts by the 10 partisan justices:
They’d have to settle on the nonpolitical justices unanimously—or at least with a “strong supermajority.” The final five would serve one-year, nonrenewable terms. They’d be chosen two years in advance, to prevent nominations based on anticipated court cases, and if the 10 partisan justices couldn’t agree on the final five, the Supreme Court would be deemed to lack a quorum and couldn’t hear cases that term.
The plan seems to contain a key contradiction. It eschews the treasured pretense that the Court is above, or at least outside, politics—a pretense that, as I wrote when Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed in 2018, the public seems to buy into less and less. The Buttigieg plan reifies this shift, yet it also assumes that nonpartisan, mutually agreeable judges exist.