U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders against increasing number of Supreme Court justices

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is against expanding the nine-member Supreme Court, a proposal some liberal activists have advocated to effectively reverse President Donald Trump’s appointment of conservative judges.

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“My worry is that the next time the Republicans are in power they will do the same thing, I think that is not the ultimate solution,” Sanders said in response to a question at a forum on Monday organized by public employee unions and other liberal groups.

Sanders said he would consider proposals that created term limits for Supreme Court justices or would rotate judges between the highest court and the lower-level appeals courts.

Trump has also ruled out expanding the number of judges ahead of the election.

Trump appointed conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to the court since taking office in 2017, cementing its 5-4 conservative majority. Supreme Court justices are appointed for lifetime terms, and both his appointees potentially could serve for decades.

In response to Trump’s appointments, a handful of liberal activists have argued that if Democrats win the White House in the November 2020 presidential election, they should expand the number of Supreme Court justices to tip the balance of control toward liberals.

When asked, some candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have said they would consider adding more justices to the court or other reforms. However, they have not made it a central part of their policy proposals, and other Democrats have opposed such an idea.

Long-shot liberal candidate Pete Buttigieg has mentioned a Supreme Court composed of 15 justices coupled with other reforms that would ensure partisan parity.

When Trump was elected in 2016, there was a court vacancy because of the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and the Republican-led Senate’s refusal to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.

Some Democrats have accused Republicans of “stealing” a seat, pointing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s move to block consideration of Garland and keep the position vacant until the following year so the next president could make the appointment. McConnell’s action, with little precedent in U.S. history, enabled Trump to nominate Gorsuch in 2017, with the Republican-led Senate voting to confirm him.

Expanding the court - by either party - would be difficult.

Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 proposed expanding it to as many as 15 justices. Critics accused him of a “court-packing” scheme aimed at changing its ideological composition. The proposal went nowhere in Congress.

Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Phil Berlowitz