An American President: Joe Biden's court reform plan is good policy and brilliant politics


Photo credit: Joe Biden for President, Flicker. License.

As Donald Trump used his 60 Minutes interview to whine, moan, and beg for softball questions, Joe Biden used his to thoughtfully unveil his plan to reform the federal judiciary and restore judicial balance as well as public confidence in the courts.

Biden said that he would appoint a bipartisan commission of Constitutional scholars to make recommendations for reforming the federal judiciary and to restore public trust in the third branch of government. The commission will have six months to submit their recommendations to a President Biden and the new Congress.

I find the idea to be brilliant, and the type of approach that matches Joe Biden as a candidate. On the merits, it's a solid idea that unites the country and looks to experts.

The approach, in an important sense, is scientific. When in the midst of a quickly spreading pandemic, a president should look to public health experts to advise him on the best policy to slow that spread. As the planet teeters on the edge of irreversible climate catastrophe, a president should look to the consensus of global climate scientists to help devise public policy to combat it. When facing a crisis of institutional racism, a president should look to social scientists who have studied it and ask for their consensus on policy to begin to address it.

Why should it be any different when it comes to ensuring the independence of and restoring public confidence in the constitutional role of the judiciary? It seems rather obvious that a consensus of bipartisan Constitutional scholars should be at the center of addressing a constitutional question as important as reforming the courts.

From the very beginning, Joe Biden has said that while he is a proud Democrat, if he becomes president, he will govern as an American president who brings the country together, and that's what he is doing here.

For those who are really interested in what one type of non-partisan court reform idea may look like, I suggest dusting off Pete Buttigieg's court reform plan from when he was running for president.

But Biden's move wasn't just a characteristic stroke of good, unifying policy. It was also a brilliant political move to subject himself to extremist scorn so that he can capture the vast political center.

Predictably, both political fringes finds the idea of a measured, unifying approach guided by experts to be outrageous. The far right is upset that Biden hasn't explicitly taken expanding the federal judiciary off the table as one of the reforms that may be recommended by the commission, and the ideologue left is appalled that Biden hasn't explicitly promised adding justices to the Supreme Court as the only possible solution to an increasingly ideological judiciary. While Ted Cruz's hair has been set ablaze at the very thought of a judiciary that doesn't do the political bidding of the radical right, the usual suspects on the 'progressive left' have dusted off their usual taunts against any attempts at healing and consensus building in a deeply wounded country.

Surprisingly, however, the highest profile leftists in the country, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both sided with Biden, recognizing that simply adding seats risks becoming a game that both sides play whenever they manage to capture the adequate number of electoral votes and Congressional seats to do so.

Having the political extremes yell at him for his a consensus-focused plan to reform the court is a stroke of genius, especially at a critical moment when the battleground states are casting their ballots in unprecedented numbers. The voters Biden is courting are not political animals or ideological extremists. They are predisposed to vote for Biden because of his character, and they want to know that he will follow the hard road of unifying the country, even if it's politically costly to him. This plan assures them that Joe Biden will do what is best for the country, without being beholden to political extremes that are tearing this country apart.

When a well-oiled campaign machine comes together with thoughtful policy, magic happens.