Back in 1937 — when most of us were but a gleam in our dad’s or granddad’s eye — Democrat President Franklin Roosevelt, just coming off a reelection victory, announced his audacious plan to expand the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court. He touted his scheme as making the court more efficient. Critics, including his own Vice President and many congressional Democrats who joined with Republicans, charged that Roosevelt was trying to “pack” the court with liberal like-thinkers and neutralize the impact of Supreme Court justices hostile to his far left “New Deal” — which he feared the court would disassemble.
Here Franklin Roosevelt in one of his radio addresses known as Fireside Chats, makes his case for increasing the number of Supreme Court justices with what he blandly referred to as the “Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937.” It became more widely known as “Roosevelt’s court packing plan.”
Fortunately, Roosevelt’s efforts to persuade failed.
Arizona Gov, Doug Ducey faces no such hostility. Yet he has just enlarged the 5-member Arizona Supreme Court by two members. The move gave him the ability to appoint the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, which he can point to in future campaign ads. We take no issue with the appointees Andrew Gould, a former superior court and court of appeals judge. or Solicitor General John Lopez, who lacks any judicial experience — but the process that placed the two Republicans on the high court is suspect. The new justices are Ducey’s second and third appointments to the Supreme Court. In January he appointed Libertarian leaning, registered Independent Clint Bolick. According to a news account, the unnecessary expansion will “cost an additional $1 million dollars each year, and came despite objections from Chief Justice Scott Bales, who wrote Ducey to veto the legislation.” The bill HB 2537, signed by Ducey was the brainchild of East Valley state Rep. J.D. Mesnard, an educator.
The State Courts building, dedicated in 1991, was built to eventually accommodate two additional justices, but there is currently no pressing need.
Ducey used the same argument that Roosevelt used saying the expanded bench would allow the court to take on more cases and ensure swift justice. In fact the Supreme Court, known as the court of last resort, is very selective in the cases it chooses to take and most of the research is done by law clerks. It hears all death penalty appeals.
In contrast, the Courts of Appeals — Arizona has two — review all civil and criminal cases properly appealed from Superior Courts.
Whether court packing is done by Democrats or Republicans, it remains equally suspect.