WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The commission formed by President Joe Biden to study potential U.S. Supreme Court changes such as expanding the number of justices or imposing term limits on them is set to release preliminary public material on Thursday.
The White House has described the information as “draft preliminary discussion material” that it has not edited. The material is expected to be released at about 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on the White House website.
Biden signed an executive order in April creating the 36-member bipartisan commission, which held its first meeting the following month. The commission is looking at the issue of expanding beyond the current nine justices or creating a fixed term for justices instead of lifetime appointments.
The Supreme Court currently has a 6-3 conservative majority after Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump made three appointments during four years in office.
Trump in 2017 was able to fill a vacancy opened up when his predecessor Barack Obama was in office because Senate Republicans in 2016 blocked consideration of Obama’s nominee to the post, current Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Opinion polls indicate that Americans’ confidence in the court is on the decline, and some experts have said its legitimacy is under threat. The Supreme Court during its current term is considering major cases in which its conservative majority could restrict abortion rights and widen gun rights, alarming many Democrats and political independents.
Republicans have opposed the idea of expanding the number of justices, which they call “court packing.” Democrats have said the current makeup of the court no longer represents the will of the U.S. electorate.
The last time court expansion was seriously pursued was in the 1930s by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt after a conservative court impeded his policies aimed at lifting America out of the Great Depression.
Biden first proposed formation of a commission during his presidential campaign last year, when he said he wanted “recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it is getting out of whack – the way in which it’s being handled – and it’s not about court-packing.” Biden proposed the idea at a time when Senate Republicans were rushing to confirm the last of Trump’s three appointees, Amy Coney Barrett, in the run-up to last year’s election.
A group of liberal Democratic lawmakers in April proposed expanding the Supreme Court by four justices, aiming to end its conservative majority, but the plan drew an unenthusiastic response from the White House and top Democrats and was denounced by Republicans.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham and Heather Timmons)