The party that brought you “death panels” and “socialized medicine” has rolled out another term — carefully selected, like the others, for its power to freak people out. “Court-packing” now joins a Republican rogue’s gallery of poll-tested epithets.
Of course, “court-packing” is not a new term, and its menacing overtone is not a recent discovery. “There is a good deal of prejudice against ‘packing the court,’” observed Homer Cummings, the U.S. attorney general, in 1936, on the eve of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s failed attempt to do just that — to tip the Supreme Court’s balance by increasing the number of seats and filling them with New Dealers. Cummings, who sold the idea to FDR, hoped Americans would not be “frightened by a phrase.”
But they were. And today’s GOP is betting they still are. Hence the resort to a term that has no valid application to the matter at hand: President Barack Obama’s determination to fill the three vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Republicans have been sounding the alarm since the spring, with increasing volume. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), among others, accuses Obama of harboring “a desire to pack the court.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board is also invoking the p-word — insisting they are shocked, shocked that the president would think of exercising his power under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution to appoint judges.
Both House and Senate Republicans have now introduced bills to stop Obama by simply eliminating the seats he wishes to fill. They are seeking to reduce the size of the D.C. Circuit from 11 judges to eight. This court is a target for conservatives for two reasons: First, because of its primary role in regulatory and national security cases, and second, because another Obama appointment (never mind three) would put the court’s Republican appointees in the minority.