WASHINGTON — Just as President Donald Trump is about to solidify a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, Joe Biden is proposing to appoint a commission to study and suggest reforms to the U.S. court system, moving to deflect nagging questions about whether he would support proposals to expand the high court.
After weeks of unabashedly dodging questions about his position on the expansion proposals, known by critics mostly as "court packing," the Democratic presidential nominee unveiled his commission plan in an interview with CBS News' "60 Minutes" that is scheduled to air in full on Sunday.
In excerpts released Thursday morning, just hours before Biden's second and final debate with Trump, Biden said the commission would be made up of scholars and members of both parties to study the court system because it's "out of whack."
"It's not about court packing," he said.
The proposal gives Biden an answer — likely unsatisfactory to some — to an issue that is sure to come up in Thursday's debate, and that Biden had recently promised to address before election day. It also buys time for Biden to defer a decision on an idea pushed by progressives that divides Democrats and draws considerable skepticism from the public, polls suggest.
His proposal quickly came under fire from the left.
Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, a progressive group that supports court expansion, called the Biden proposal a "punt" that "runs the risk of stalling momentum for serious reform."
Amid debate over the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the idea of expanding the court has gained currency among Democrats who believe court vacancies have been unfairly filled by President Trump. They point to the Republicans' stonewalling of President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 as well as what they deem a rush to confirm Barrett in the midst of the election season.
Barrett's nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday despite a Democratic boycott of the vote and is expected to win approval on the Senate floor next week.
Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years, has great respect for the institution's traditions and has said in the past that he does not support expanding the court. In the emotional aftermath of Ginsburg's death, he kept mum and bluntly refused to state his position.