Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden refused to give his position on adding justices to the Supreme Court during Tuesday’s first presidential debate. By avoiding the issue Biden has left it on the table and Republicans have pounced on his lack of stand on an important constitutional issue.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace asked the former vice president, “Are you willing to tell the American people tonight whether or not you will support either ending the filibuster or packing the court?”
“Whatever position I take on that that will become the issue. The issue is the American people should speak. You should go out and vote. You’re in voting now. Vote and let your senators know how you strongly you feel,” Biden said, completely avoiding the question.
At this point, President Trump said, “Are you going to pack the court? Are you going to pack the court? He doesn’t want to answer.”
“I’m not going to answer the question, because the question is, the question is, the question is —” Biden stammered. “Will you shut up, man?” Biden said, obviously flustered by both the question and the President’s pressing of the issue.
Biden’s initial answer to Wallace’s question is nonsensical. The entire point of a political campaign is that candidates take positions on the issues. That is how the voters are able to decide between the choices they are offered.
Biden’s lack of candor on the court-packing issue was quickly addressed by Republicans. Fox News reported that Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) tweeted, “Joe Biden continues to leave the door open to packing the Court… with activists who will impose the liberal agenda from the bench.”
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said, “The reason why they don’t want to answer it is clearly is in their hearts and they know on their left-wing flank the answer is yes. They do want to pack the court because they want to fundamentally restructure the nature of American government and that that would be extremely unpopular and probably cost them the election.”
Biden did take a position on adding justices to the Supreme Court last year. According to Reason.com, Biden in July of 2019 said he was “not prepared to go on and try to pack the court.” Then in October 2019 he said he “would not get into court-packing,”
Since that time, however, some prominent Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both of New York, and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts have gone on record as being in favor of court-packing. Even Biden’s running mate Senator Kamala Harris of California said she was open to the idea during the Democratic primaries.
The concept of court-packing has not been an issue in American politics since the 1930s when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed it because of his frustration with the Supreme Court ruling some of his New Deal programs unconstitutional. Despite huge Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Roosevelt’s idea was overwhelmingly rejected as dangerous.
Joe Biden’s silence on the subject has brought the issue back to life.