Biden, then a U.S. Senator from Delaware, made the comments during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in July 1983 regarding nominations to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. At the time, Republican President Ronald Reagan had stoked controversy for attempting to replace three members of the commission.

Biden argued at the time that, although it was within the president’s right to do so, it risked damaging the credibility of the commission. He compared it to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unsuccessful attempts in 1937 to expand the Supreme Court by six justices – in other words, pack the court.

“President Roosevelt clearly had the right to send to the United States Senate and the United States Congress a proposal to pack the court. It was totally within his right to do that. He violated no law. He was legalistically, absolutely correct,” Biden, then 40, told the committee. “But it was a bonehead idea. It was a terrible, terrible mistake to make. And it put in question, if for an entire decade, the independence of the most-significant body … in this country, the Supreme Court of the United States of America.”