Young America’s Foundation is committed to ensuring young people understand the dangers of court-packing, following President Joe Biden’s unveiling of a commission to study expanding the Supreme Court. This is the second piece in a two-part series by historian Dr. Burt Folsom examining the dangers of court-packing. You can read the first piece detailing the historic attempt by President Franklin Roosevelt to pack the court here.
After President Franklin Roosevelt’s stinging defeat to pack the Supreme Court, no politician in the next two generations tried to grab dictatorial powers. In 1983, as we have seen, Senator Joe Biden called court-packing a “bonehead idea” and denounced FDR for having tried it. Now, President Joe Biden is sympathetic to the idea of adding new justices. What has changed?
First, in 1983, Senator Biden’s fellow liberals were out of power. Any concentration of power would have benefitted conservatives. Now, the liberals are in power and control two of the three branches of government. President Biden is anxious to increase federal power and perhaps impose a socialist experiment on the American economy. But the Supreme Court tends to vote conservative. Six of the nine justices have been appointed by conservative presidents. If Biden could pack the Court with four more justices, as leading progressives have suggested doing, then the Left would have a majority in all three branches of government. They could then nullify much of the Constitution and create a new America.
For example, Congress could pass laws to limit free speech, impose gun control, and further reorder the economy along socialist lines. President Biden would sign these bills, and the newly packed Supreme Court, by a 7-6 margin, would dutifully declare such laws legal and constitutional. At that point, the America of the last two hundred plus years would be dead, and the new America would become a kind of dictatorship or oligarchy. Individual liberty would either be dead or on life support. And there would be no turning back. No nation in history that has abandoned freedom has ever regained it.
President Biden and many liberals may be looking at Venezuela for guidance on tactics, if not results. When Venezuela achieved independence, it designed a government similar to that of the United States. It had both an elected president and an independent Supreme Court until socialist Hugo Chavez became president in 1999. Chavez initially praised the 20-member Supreme Court until it began striking down laws that increased Chavez’s power. In 2004, Chavez maneuvered to pack the Venezuelan Supreme Court by adding twelve new justices. That key step gave Chavez what he needed. Soon his one-party rule imposed socialism on Venezuela and that country, which was the jewel of South America, became bankrupt and poverty stricken, with refugees still today streaming into neighboring countries. The freedom, once enjoyed by Venezuela’s citizens, is now lost.
To maintain freedom, Americans today need to muster the courage we had in the 1930s. We stopped Roosevelt’s court-packing plan then, and we can do so again with Biden’s similar grasp for dictatorial powers.
Dr. Burt Folsom serves as a distinguished fellow at Hillsdale College.