Politics

Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she opposes proposals from 2020 Democrats to expand the Supreme Court

Key Points
  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opposes proposals floated by Democratic presidential candidates to increase the number of justices on the top court.
  • She says any such plan would make the court look partisan.
  • "It would be that — one side saying, 'When we're in power, we're going to enlarge the number of judges, so we would have more people who would vote the way we want them to,'" Ginsburg tells NPR.
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sits with fellow Supreme Court justices for a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Nov. 30, 2018.
J. Scott Applewhite | AP

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she opposes proposals by Democratic presidential candidates to increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court because doing so would make it look partisan.

"It would be that — one side saying, 'When we're in power, we're going to enlarge the number of judges, so we would have more people who would vote the way we want them to,'" Ginsburg told NPR in an interview that aired Wednesday.

"Nine seems to be a good number. It's been that way for a long time," she said Tuesday.

Several Democratic candidates have said they are open to increasing the size of the nine-justice court.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke said shortly after entering the race that expanding the court to 15 members is an "idea we should explore." Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has made court reform a centerpiece of his campaign, including the idea of court expansion. Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have said they are open to the idea.

But Ginsburg, the court's most senior liberal justice, said the idea contradicts the premise of an independent judicial branch.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's journey from child of immigrants to the Supreme Court

"We are blessed in the way no other judiciary is in the world," she said. "We have life tenure. The only way to get rid of a federal judge is by impeachment. Congress can't retaliate by reducing our salary, so the safeguards for judicial independence in this country, I think, are as great or greater than any place else in the world."

The comments from a sitting associate justice touching on current campaign proposals are notable. Ginsburg was criticized during the last presidential election for wading into electoral politics. In 2016, she called then-candidate Donald Trump a "faker," and later apologized.

In the NPR interview, Ginsburg did not criticize any candidate by name. And she reached back into history, noting that "it was a bad idea when President Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the court."

Roosevelt infamously failed to expand the size of the Supreme Court in 1937 to 15 after the court rejected a number of his New Deal reforms. His court expansion proposal failed in Congress.

In the interview, Ginsburg also addressed concerns about her health. The 86-year-old justice missed oral arguments for the first time in 25 years last term after undergoing surgery to remove a growth from her left lung. A decade ago, Ginsburg was treated for pancreatic cancer.

"There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer, who announced, with great glee, that I was going to be dead within six months. That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now dead himself," she told NPR. "And I am very much alive."

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