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A White House commission on reforming the conservative-leaning US Supreme Court said Thursday that proposals to add more justices could undermine its legitimacy, but favored setting term limits for justices.
US President Joe Biden ordered a study of the high court in April amid pressure from supporters to address the increased politicization in the selection process for the nine-judge panel, which arguably has led to its six-to-three tilt in favor of conservatives.
One proposal was to increase the number of justices to conceivably allow Biden or another president to better balance the court's political tilt, as well as give it greater capacity to hear cases.
A second proposal was to end the lifetime appointments to the court in favor of a maximum term of 12 or 18 years to prevent either Democrats or Republicans from capturing the high court and to ensure a regular replenishment, as some justices in the past have served three decades or more.
But the panel, led by law experts Bob Bauer of New York University School of Law and Cristina Rodriguez of Yale Law School, warned that efforts to tamper with the court's structure could themselves become mired in politics and damage the institution.
"The risks of court expansion are considerable, including that it could undermine the very goal of some of its proponents of restoring the court's legitimacy," the report said.
As for term limits, the panel was more favorable, noting the idea has widespread acceptance among experts, politicians of both parties, the public and three justices themselves.
The report noted that no other major constitutional democracy allows high court justices to serve for life.
Term limits "simultaneously would preserve the value of judicial independence and ensure that the court's membership is broadly responsive to the outcome of democratic elections over time," it said.
But it said that setting term limits would be bureaucratically challenging, likely requiring a constitutional amendment, which needs two-thirds support of both houses of Congress and then ratification by three-quarters of the 50 states.
Biden was pressed to review the setup of the Supreme Court by Democrats angry over the Republicans' use of a political maneuver in 2016 to stall for nine months and ultimately quash Democratic then-president Barack Obama's nominee to fill a vacant seat.
That was seen as a sharp break in political tradition that set the grounds for the conservative capture of the court.
Democrats are particularly worried the court could now move to abolish abortion rights and erode other mainstays of progressive policy.
The commission made no recommendations, but its conclusions appeared likely to help ease the pressure on Biden to attempt to alter the court structure.
"Rather than calm the controversy surrounding the Supreme Court, expansion could further degrade the confirmation process," the report said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki downplayed the report, saying: "It's an assessment, not a recommendation."