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Progressives Push Back on Breyer for Court Packing Comments

April 8, 2021, 9:45 PM

Progressives pushed back strongly against Justice Stephen Breyer’s recent warning that efforts to add seats to the U.S. Supreme Court could erode public trust.

“I didn’t understand why he was weighing in on the prerogative of the legislature” as a member of the judiciary, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) said Thursday during an American Constitution Society discussion about restructuring the court.

“I wish that he would just stop talking about that and stick to actually adjudicating cases,” Jones said.

Nancy Zirkin, former executive vice president for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said she “was surprised by his lack of, evidently, knowledge of history.”

The comments come after an April 6 speech at Harvard Law School in which Breyer expressed some skepticism of the court packing push that gained popularity with progressives after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

“Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that latter perception, further eroding that trust,” Breyer said during the nearly two-hour presentation.

Liberals hope Breyer, 82, will retire soon to make room for a nomination by President Joe Biden, and the justice’s speech could be seen as a farewell address if that indeed happens.

“Hopefully this is the precursor to the announcement I think we’re all hoping that Stephen Breyer will make here and if that happens whatever he said last night is fine with me,” Chris Kang, chief counsel of progressive advocacy group Demand Justice, said on the panel.

—with assistance by Greg Stohr

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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