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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday said the possibility of packing federal courts with progressive judges to achieve "bold, ambitious" policies should not be dismissed. (Photo: @PeteButtigieg/Twitter)

2020 Democrat Pete Buttigieg Wins Applause for Making 'Pack the Courts' Argument

Expanding the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts, argues the Democratic mayor from Indiana, would be "no more a shattering of norms than what's already been done to get the judiciary where it is today."

Julia Conley

South Bend, Indiana Mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg won the attention of progressives on social media on Tuesday night after indicating support for packing the U.S. Supreme Court with left-leaning judges in order to push through progressive proposals which have the support of most Americans.

"Bold changes and reforms are needed...We need to set that as the level of intellectual and policy ambition that we have, which does not come naturally to our party lately."                                                                                                                                          —Pete Buttigieg

At a book event promoting his new memoir in Philadelphia, Buttigieg was asked by an audience member whether he would be open to adding four seats to the nation's highest court and expanding the size of lower courts to combat the Republican Party's recent success in assembly a right-wing judiciary branch.

"Many progressives, myself included, feel like the Supreme Court has been stolen—from the Gorsuch seat that should have been ours to the controversial Kavanaugh confirmation," the audience member said.

Buttigieg raised his eyebrows at the question, but said it was unwise to dismiss the proposal, which he called "no more a shattering of norms than what's already been done to get the judiciary to where it is today."


"Very bold, very ambitious ideas need a hearing right now," the mayor added.

The comments drew surprise and praise from progressives who have grown accustomed to Democratic leaders shying away from the kinds of reforms that could sway the legislative and judicial branches in progressives' favor—even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) eagerly blocked Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination and pushed through Justice Neil Gorsuch's confirmation, and Republicans used the 60-vote filibuster to defeat gun control proposals, climate change legislation, and other progressive agenda items.

"Pack the Courts applauds Pete Buttigieg for being the first presidential contender to tell Americans the truth about the Kavanaugh court," said the judicial reform advocacy group Pack the Courts in a statement. "We look forward to more progressives doing the same."

At the same event, Buttigieg also endorsed redistricting reforms and other pro-democracy changes that would allow for greater representation of the public interest in Washington.

"Bold changes and reforms are needed," Buttigieg said, including "things that might require constitutional action...Things like questioning whether it really makes sense to have an electoral college, which twice in my lifetime has overruled the American people. Asking whether it makes sense to continue to go on with fellow U.S. citizens in places like D.C. and Puerto Rico denied full political representation."

"We need to set that as the level of intellectual and policy ambition that we have, which does not come naturally to our party lately," the mayor concluded.

At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser agreed.

"Democrats must think in these terms," wrote Millhiser, "if they wish to restore democracy to a nation with an unelected president, a Senate that gives so much extra representation to small Republican states that Democrats soon lose control of it permanently, and a Supreme Court whose membership is determined by unelected presidents and a rigged Senate."

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