Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is the only candidate among 21 who has laid out a full vision for reforming the Supreme Court.
Though many other candidates have recognized the need for reform, Buttigieg has advocated for expanding the number of justices during his campaign.
His idea for the expansion would put the new number at 15 and would involve five justices with Democratic affiliations, five connected to the Republicans and five bipartisan justices recommended by the other ten.
The model for this plan comes from a paper that will be published in the Yale Law Journal by Daniel Epps, an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, and Ganesh Sitaraman, a law professor at Vanderbilt Law School.
Though other candidates caution that this could cause additional partisan fights over the Supreme Court, Buttigieg has said he thinks this model would be a step toward depoliticizing the Court.
“The point is how do we change the trajectory of the court away from being viewed as an increasingly political institution,” Buttigieg said in a recent New York Times interview. “We can’t have an apocalyptic, ideological firefight every time there’s a vacancy.”
Though he’s the strongest supporter for expanding the Court, Buttigieg views it more as a potential framework than a specific policy, according to his campaign, and he’s open to any ideas that depoliticize the Court.
“The reason that the constitution and our system of laws allows us to refine our institutions is precisely to deal with moments like this, when those institutions fall out of step with the needs of a changing reality and a changing country,” Buttigieg said in a previous interview.
His real plan, according to his campaign, to address the Supreme Court is to start a commission when he gets to the White House that would study the issue and propose the best solution.
Another one of his reasons for backing this policy is to start the conversation about reexamining the Supreme Court’s makeup.
This has been so successful that the New York Times asked all of the candidates about their thoughts on expansion.
Nine of those interviewed, including Buttigieg, said they were open to the idea, though none expressed the same level of support.
Sen. Kamala Harris simply said she was open to the idea, while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she needed to do more research. Gov. Steve Bullock also said he’s open to the idea, but is more focused on getting politics out of the Court.
On the other side of it, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she’s interested, but is also aware of multiple ways to fix the Supreme Court. Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s open to the idea, but thinks there are better ideas. Andrew Yang said he’s supportive, but he’s more attracted to the idea of 18-year term limits for justices.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she’s open, but she thinks the more practical approach is to fill open judgeships as soon as they’re vacant.
Rep. Seth Moulton said the idea has to be on the table. “The fact of the matter is that Republicans have played hardball with us, and we haven’t played hardball in return,” he said. “[Republicans] will try anything and we have to show that we’re willing to do the same.”
The other 12 candidates said they were opposed to expansion for a variety of reasons. Some said it would set a dangerous precedent for Republicans to copy in the future. Some said changing American norms isn’t the way to fix the problem of politicization on the courts.
Many cited President Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to expand the Court in 1937 and said the idea would fail again.
Buttigieg has acknowledged that it won’t be easy, but reforming the Supreme Court is important and necessary for the health of American democracy.
“I am for whatever Supreme Court reform will depoliticize this body. We cannot afford for the Supreme Court to continue down this trajectory of being regarded as an almost nakedly political institution,” he said in an MSNBC interview. “So, I think that the reform of, not just expanding the number of members, but doing it in a way where some of them are selected on a consensus, non-partisan basis is a very promising way to do it.
by Nikoel Hytrek
Photo by Julie Fleming