Confronted with one of the thorniest questions in the Democratic Party right now—whether to expand the U.S. Supreme Court if they take power next year—vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) attempted an artful dodge.
But the answer Harris gave on the vice presidential debate stage may have ended up more awkward than artful. She began by slamming the GOP’s decision to ram a Supreme Court justice through the U.S. Senate within a month of the election, and ended by promising to fill judicial vacancies if she and Democratic nominee Joe Biden take office in January.
Missing was any direct acknowledgement of court packing or her position on it—not even a venturing of the all-encompassing “everything is on the table” response that party leaders such as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have offered. Harris herself, in fact, gave such an answer in 2018 during the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, saying there was an imminent crisis of confidence in the court and “everything is on the table” to address it.
Many Democrats, particularly within the party’s liberal base, have reacted to Republicans’ rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the high court—four years after blocking President Obama from filling a vacancy in an election year—by urging Democrats to respond with no-holds barred tactics if they take back power in 2021.
The issue came about on Wednesday night after Vice President Mike Pence pressed Harris over her stance on court-packing—an issue he raised after completely ignoring a question about what his plan was to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Initially, Harris raised the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who did not fill a high court vacancy just before the election of 1864. Now, said Harris, “the American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States and then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of the land.”
Pressed again on the court-packing question specifically, Harris said, “Let’s talk about packing the court then. We are about to.” The senator, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that vets federal judicial nominees, said she witnessed Trump appointments to the bench who were “not competent or substandard.”
“And do you know that of the 50 people who President Trump appointed to the court of appeals for lifetime appointments, not one is black?” said Harris. “This is what they have been doing. You want to talk about packing the court, let’s have the discussion.”
Pence, who declined to answer his fair share of questions throughout the night, had an easy opportunity to point out what had just happened. “I want the record to reflect she never answered the question,” he said, when Harris was done.