Rev. Raphael Warnock, who will take Georgia’s Senate seat in the coming weeks, did not answer a significant question throughout his entire campaign: whether or not he would support adding more justices to the Supreme Court.
Asked twice during a Dec. 6 debate with Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Warnock dismissed the court-packing issue as a Washington obsession.
“As I move all across the state, people aren’t asking me about the courts and whether we should expand the court,” he told the Atlanta Press Club debate moderator. “I know that’s an interesting question for people inside the Beltway to discuss, but [people in Georgia] are wondering what in the world are they going to get some COVID-19 relief.”
Nine justices on the Supreme Court became the standard number in 1869, though no number is specified in the Constitution.
“Packing” the court with extra justices was attempted unsuccessfully by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937, who sought to force through parts of his New Deal that were ruled unconstitutional by the high court.
Loeffler throughout the campaign predicted Warnock would work with Democrats to add justices to the court.
“The radical left — including @ReverendWarnock — wants to pack the Supreme Court & stack the judiciary with activist judges who write laws from the bench, undermine public safety, and rip away our rights,” she wrote on Twitter in late November. “Not happening on my watch.”
After his election win, Warnock said he wasn’t concerned with the matter.
“Progressives across the country are celebrating that your election could mean adding two states, eliminating the filibuster, and packing the Supreme Court with more members,” ABC’s “The View” co-host Meghan McCain asked the reverend this week. “Your colleague Joe Manchin has joined with Republicans to reject those ideas. Chuck Schumer this morning tweeted ‘buckle up.’ So you can understand how it’s hard for Republicans like me to believe in the spirit of unity, and I want to know: Will you do the same thing as Joe Manchin and agree not to follow up on any of those things?”
“Well I’m not focused on any of those things,” Warnock said, adding that he was more concerned with health care. “Sometimes these words just become political buzzwords.”
“Senator, I do believe that average Americans care about packing the courts, and I just want to know if you would agree and join Joe Manchin and agree that you are not for that,” McCain said.
“My job is to take the concerns that are being raised by my constituents,” Warnock said.
The idea of packing the Supreme Court gained momentum this year after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. Democrats accused Republicans of stealing her seat after they pushed through the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the bench so close to an election.
Meanwhile, Democrat Jon Ossoff, Warnock’s soon-to-be colleague from Georgia, opposed the idea of adding seats to the bench.
“We shouldn’t expand the Supreme Court just because a justice may be confirmed with whom we disagree on policy,” he said in a September interview with Classic City News.
Yet, Warnock side-stepped the question in another interview.
“I think it’s presumptuous for me to go further down that path — talking about what ought to happen with the courts,” Warnock said in another encounter on the matter in November. “I’m hopeful that the people of Georgia will look at my life, look at my record and give me the great honor of representing them in the United States Senate.”
The opposition of even a small number of Democrats would kill any chance of getting a court-packing measure through Congress.
In addition to Ossoff, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have voiced opposition to adding justices to the court.
After repeatedly dodging questions on whether he supports court-packing, then-candidate Biden in October said he would form a commission to examine “how to reform the court system.”
“If elected, what I will do is I’ll put together a national commission, a bipartisan commission of scholars, constitutional scholars, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives,” he said in an interview. “I will ask them to, over 180 days, come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system, because it’s getting out of whack.”
Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.