Democratic Victory in 2020? Watch Out — They’ll Be Packing

By Tom Gilson Published on November 27, 2018

Progressives are running scared. On November 16, columnist Bill Blum wrote an article in The Progressive arguing for packing the Supreme Court — raising the total number of justices to at least eleven. (I encountered Blum’s article when Apple News republished it last week.) His fear: “the dangers of leaving the Supreme Court in conservative hands for the foreseeable future.”

Blum quotes Current Affairs columnist Vanessa Bee urging in near panic that court packing is needed now to “save democracy.” It’s not clear how democracy is at risk, given that it was democratic processes that gave us our current Supreme Court. Still she warns, “the conservatives would cement their chokehold over the Court for decades to come. … It’s the rule of a judicial oligarchy.”

Which is hilarious. “Oligarchy” — meaning, a small group of people taking control of a country — is a perfect word to describe what conservatives are trying to dismantle on the Supreme Court. Any court that can invent a new “right” to gay marriage, against the expressed will of Congress, is a court that thinks it can take over the laws of the country. Conservatives’ priority is to return the Court to its proper role, interpreting law rather than making it.

Despair in Progressive-Land

Still she moans. Abortion rights, gay marriage, affirmative action, indeed a whole list of social programs at risk, most of them imposed by the liberal oligarchy that reigned on the Court until the arrival of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. “The bleakness we face now,” she writes, “is on a different plane.” Later she adds, “I’ve lost count of how many friends and colleagues have told me how much despair they feel when they think of the future.”

Yes, there’s fear and despair in Progressive-land. There’s also tearing-up of rule-books, while accusing the other side of doing the same.

“Oligarchy” is a perfect word to describe what conservatives are trying to dismantle on the Supreme Court.

Columnist Mehdi Hasan at The Intercept says, “Court-packing has to be near the top of a progressive agenda for 2020.” He adds, “Forget procedures; forget norms. There is too much at stake. Playing by the old rules while the Republicans tear them up won’t cut it.“

The irony there is laughable, too. Republicans haven’t torn up any rules; nothing more consequential than the filibuster, which Democrats had earlier tried to tear up themselves.

Court-Packing’s Supposed “Long and Distinguished History”

The fact is, the Court has remained at nine justices for over a century. It’s not a hard-and-fast constitutional number, and the count had fluctuated before then. But that was all very long ago. Ian Samuel, writing for The Guardian, illustrates just how far Progressives will stretch reality, telling us court-packing “enjoys a long and distinguished history in America.” He should have said it has a “long-ago” history. We’ve been all done with it for a long time now.

And Progressives were fine with that while it worked for them. This time, though, Progressives lost. They lost under the same rules that allowed them victory for so long. But they don’t know how to lose.

Can’t Stand To Lose, Changing the Rules Instead

When my kids were younger we’d play games, and sometimes (believe it or not!) I’d lose. Except, when that happened, I’d usually say, “Sorry, I never lose. I’m the dad, so I can change the rules. I win!” I promise you, they knew I was joking. 

But I can also remember when the playground bully would try to change the rules of the game if he was losing. If it was his ball he could threaten to go home and take it with him. We had little choice but to go along with him. No joke, no fun, nothing fair about it.

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Democrats don’t own the ball right now. They don’t have much to threaten with. But Progressive columnists are banking on getting the ball back in 2020. Conservatives may have a Supreme Court majority now, but we can’t rest on it remaining that way. If Democrats win the White House and Congress in 2020, they’ll have the ball.

Or if I can add some irony of my own, given liberals’ disregard for the Second Amendment: If Democrats win in 2020, watch out. They’re gonna come packin’.

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