Framing Judicial Nominations

For a long time, some Republican senators have accused President Barack Obama of trying to fill Federal courts with liberal judges. If that were all there was to it, it would be just routine partisanship. What makes it different is that they frame these judicial appointments as “court-packing.”

The phrase originates with a struggle between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Supreme Court, which had struck down several New Deal laws. In response, FDR proposed in 1937 adding six more justices to the Supreme Court’s nine for a total of fifteen. These appointments would have given his supporters a majority on the court. This was known as his court-packing plan. This plan was extremely controversial among both Republicans and Democrats and never passed.

Therefore, with the court-packing accusation, the story these senators are telling goes something like this:

The president is not satisfied to fill vacant seats in the judiciary. He wants to cheat. If we don’t stop him, our courts will be overrun with liberal, activist judges that will try to achieve victories for Obama through the courts that he can’t win through Congress.

In this story, of course, President Obama is framed as the villain while Republicans that try to block his judicial nominees are the heros.

The problem with this story is that it isn’t true. Obama has proposed nominees only to vacant positions, not to new positions. So why do they say it? The court-packing charge associates Obama with FDR, the radical Republicans bullies‘ ultimate foe, riling the base. It also sows doubt about the president’s intentions. And people that have heard only claims that he’s trying to pack the courts may believe it.

How do we prevent this? The best I’ve been able to think of is to call the claim a lie:

That’s a lie. The president is fulfilling his oath of office by appointing judges to vacant seats as the Constitution requires. Trying to stop him from doing his duty is obstruction of justice for Americans that have already waited too long for judges to hear their cases. As the saying goes, “Justice delayed is justice denied,” and that’s wrong.

In this story, the president is the hero for doing his duty to protect the right of accused Americans to a speedy trial. The villain is those that try to stop him. Obstruction of justice is a crime.

What do you think should be said in response to the “court-packing” charge?

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