Blinken: You know what undermines democracy? Court-packing

Positive proof that Joe Biden wants to ditch the progressives? Maybe not, but this declaration from Antony Blinken yesterday certainly can’t give them warm fuzzies. They spent the entire primary fulminating over the Supreme Court, and then went ballistic when Donald Trump replaced the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett on the court a week before the presidential election.

Pack the court! came the rallying cry. Yesterday, intentional or not, Biden’s Secretary of State issued the rebuttal (via Spencer Brown):

And there’s something important to be learned from Ecuador; from Colombia, where I’ll travel next; and from the region more broadly – when it comes to understanding the challenges facing democracies and how we can overcome them.

Let me start with an example. Consider a country where a leader is elected in a free and fair election, and then sets about chipping away slowly but surely at the pillars of democracy – attacking the free press, undermining the independence of the courts, threatening political opponents.

Now, imagine that leader then seeks to use the levers of democracy to pass anti-democratic reforms – eliminating term limits, packing courts, firing legislators.

That’s the story of more than one democracy in our hemisphere. And it’s one of the ways that democracies can come undone.

Er … that was almost the story of our democracy, courtesy of Joe Biden’s allies in the progressive movement. Notably, Blinken didn’t even attempt to contextualize this to provide his own party’s radical wing any cover. Nowhere else in Blinken’s speech in Ecuador distinguish between court expansion for rational reasons and court-packing to push a governing agenda through the judiciary rather than the legislature.

And that, after all, is because there is no difference between the two here in the US. Progressives pushed for court-packing here in the US out of a desire to use brute-force politics, and why Blinken’s correct in calling it “anti-democratic.” Progressives literally wanted to go around the democratic institutions of the legislative and executive branches in the US to get the courts to impose their agenda by fiat. Blinken doesn’t distinguish between the two because there isn’t a distinction to be made.

The reference to term limits is interesting, but only in an academic sense. Joe Biden’s Commission To Punt Court Packing Into Oblivion noted that there is a great deal of popular support for term limits on the judiciary, but even that has its challenges, as WaPo analyst Aaron Blake pointed out:

The actual prospects for this idea are admittedly dim. Even if public support were broader, it would quite possibly require a constitutional amendment — meaning two-thirds majorities of both the House and Senate and ratification by 38 states.

There’s also likely to be very little appetite for it in the official Republican Party, given how successful they have been at gaming the nomination process in recent years and getting a historically conservative court that could lean that way for decades. And President Biden even briefly indicated over the weekend that he opposed the idea.

We should also remember that support for term limits — especially ones for Congress — is often high, and that has hardly provided an impetus for implementing them. Perhaps it might be different if legislators weren’t term-limiting themselves, but consensus on an issue is generally insufficient; you need actual pressure.

Aaron’s correct in remaining skeptical. People might signal approval for the idea in a survey, but that doesn’t make it a priority, nor does it indicate a voting pattern that would pressure legislators to comply. In this case, given that it would take a constitutional amendment to remove the lifetime term of office granted federal judges, it’s as much a non-starter as court-packing, if not even more so.

In the meantime, one has to wonder whether Biden and his team have awoken to the danger of their stampede to the far Left and the Bernification of the party. First they’re proposing to dump the punitive taxes that are an end to themselves for progressives, and now they’re unpacking court-packing. The ship of Bidenstate is turning, but the question is whether it’s sinking too fast to do any good.