Champions of the bill hope to use it to generate more support for an eventual overhaul.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said it made sense to enlarge the court given its complex workload and the growth of the federal court system since the makeup of the Supreme Court last changed in 1869. Its size is set by law, not the Constitution, and it was changed multiple times in the early days of the nation.
“Nine justices may have made sense in the 19th century, when there were only nine circuits, and many of our most important federal laws — covering everything from civil rights to antitrust, the internet, financial regulation, health care, immigration and white-collar crime — simply did not exist, and did not require adjudication by the Supreme Court,” said Mr. Nadler, another sponsor of the bill. “But the logic behind having only nine justices is much weaker today, when there are 13 circuits.”
Republicans immediately assailed the idea, with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, calling it an “insane” bill and noting that even liberal members of the court have opposed the idea.
“The public, by the way, agrees,” he said on the Senate floor. “They see through this discredited concept.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, called it a “terrible idea.”
“If successful, this would inevitably lead to changing the number of Supreme Court justices every time there is a shift in power,” he said.
Republican political operatives quickly criticized the proposal to expand the court, which also surfaced in 2020 Senate races, signaling that the party would try to use the issue to portray Democrats as radical even if the legislation fails.