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Letter: Packing the Supreme Court?

At the beginning of his second term as president, Franklin Roosevelt was disgusted with the Supreme Court. In his attempts to bring the United States out of the depths of the Great Depression, Roosevelt, with a strong Democratic Congress, had passed several measures which the conservative members of the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional.

Despairing of his chances of appointing new justices, he came up with a scheme to change the makeup of the court. A bill was written which would give full retirement pay to each of the six judges who were over 70. If the justice refused to retire, another justice would be appointed to “help” him. This would raise the number of justices on the Supreme Court from its traditional nine to 15.

Roosevelt’s attempt to increase the number of justices, which was called court packing, was unsuccessful as that part was stripped out of the judiciary act.

If any court is considered to be “more equal than others”, it is the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This court, established in the late 1800s, hears cases which deal with governmental agencies and national policies are established by virtue of its decisions. From 1984 until January 2009 it had 12 judges because of the complexity of the cases. As President Obama took office, the number was reduced to 11. Now only eight judges are serving on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which leaves three vacancies.

President Obama has nominated four candidates — three women and one man — who have been filibustered by the Republicans. It has been suggested that there may be some gender bias in the filibusters. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have claimed that Obama is court packing, which is obviously incorrect. President Obama is doing his constitutional duty by nominating candidates for these vacancies.

This court is often considered to be a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. (Thomas, Scalia, Roberts and Ginsberg came from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.) Fifteen of the last 19 judges on the D.C. court were appointed by Republican presidents. It’s time for a better balance.

Barbara M. Edwards