Biden says it would be ‘a mistake’ to expand Supreme Court – despite ruling on affirmative action

‘This is not a normal court,’ says President Joe Biden

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Friday 30 June 2023 18:36 BST
Biden says ‘discrimination still exists’ in America after Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action

President Joe Biden has said it would be a mistake to expand the Supreme Court, despite its recent rulings against affirmative action in higher education, LGBT+ rights, and student loan debt forgiveness.

The high court overturned decades of policies when it ruled this week that race-based admissions were not constitutional, preventing universities from considering race as a factor in student applications.

Mr Biden hit out at the ruling on Thursday, commenting: “We cannot let this decision be the last word.

“Discrimination still exists in America,” he added. “This is not a normal court.”

Despite his strong reaction to the decision, the president ruled out the idea of “packing” the Supreme Court with additional justices in order to change the balance of opinion on the bench.

“I think if we start the process of trying to expand the court, we’re going to politicise it maybe forever in a way that is not healthy,” Mr Biden told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace.

It was a question Mr Biden was asked regularly during his last presidential campaign when a worried Democratic electorate expressed concern that there were few liberal justices left on the bench which would allow for the decisions handed down over the past year.

Although it would not be unprecedented to change the number of justices in the Supreme Court — as the Constitution does not specify how many justices there should be — the number has remained at nine since not been changed since 1868.

The court currently consists of nine justices — three of whom were chosen during Donald Trump’s only term as president, tipping the balance over to more conservative judges. Indeed, just three of the current nine justices were appointed by Democratic presidents — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was appointed by Mr Biden, and Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor were appointed by President Barack Obama.

Clarence Thomas was appointed by President George HW Bush, and President George W Bush appointed Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Since Mr Trump’s appointment of justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, the court has weighed in with a conservative hand on landmark rulings — including the overturning of the historic abortion 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade, giving the decision on abortion provision over to individual states.

In addition to the ruling on affirmative action, on Friday 30 June, the court also struck down President Biden’s plan to cancel student loan debts for millions of Americans, reversing his campaign-trail promise as borrowers prepare to resume payments this summer.

The court also ruled that a wedding website designer may refuse to create work for people in the LGBT+ community if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. The case was unique in that it asked justices to rule on a question that was solely based on a hypothetical scenario.

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