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The nine-member Supreme Court limit has been a subject of debate for nearly 150 years. Photo: Yale Law School
The nine-member Supreme Court limit has been a subject of debate for nearly 150 years. Photo: Yale Law School

Biden selects Cristina Rodríguez to co-lead commission on Supreme Court expansion

Rodriguez was the first tenured Latina professor at Yale. Her areas of expertise include immigration law and constitutional law.

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On Friday, April 9, President Joe Biden will issue an executive order to form the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States. It will consist of a bipartisan group of constitutional experts to oversee the reform debate. The commissioners will include former federal judges and practitioners who have appeared before the Court, as well as advocates for reform of democratic institutions and of the administration of justice. 

At the helm of the initiative, Biden has selected two co-chairs of the Commission, both former Obama-era White House officials: 

Former White House Counsel Bob Bauer, a Professor and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law, and Cristina Rodríguez, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel under President Obama, and the first tenured Latina professor at Yale. 

The move comes months after Biden promised to create a commission on the issue of expanding the Court in a 60 Minutes interview in October rather than clarifying his view.

“I will ask them to, over 180 days, come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system, because it’s getting out of whack,” he told Norah O’Donnell.

The commission will consist of a 180-day study on the prospect of adding seats to the Supreme Court, delivering on a campaign-year promise of looking-into expanding the court or setting term limits for justices, White House officials said in a press release.

Republicans gained an advantage on the court by blocking Obama-era nominee Merrick Garland in 2016. After Trump assumed office, he solidified a conservative 6-3 shift over four years. 

Activists and progressive lawmakers urged then-candidate Biden to promise he would expand the court as a way to counteract the strides President Trump made for the Republican party, by installing both Brett M. Kavanaugh, Neil M. Gorsuch, and finally Justice Amy Coney Barrett in his final months in the presidency. 

But the nine-member Supreme Court limit has been a subject of debate for nearly 150 years, and now with half of Congress at odds with the prospect, any attempt by the Democratic party to increase the number of justices will face strong opposition.

Therefore Biden’s Commission will delve into the longstanding debate to provide analysis of the main arguments for and against the Supreme Court’s reform, including a deep-dive into the advantages and legality of particular points of reform. 

Namely, it will assess the genesis of the reform debate, the Court’s role in the Constitutional system, the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court, the membership and size of the Court, and the Court’s case selection , rules, and practices. 

Biden has instructed the commission to hold public hearings and to accept testimony and submissions from other legal experts, organizations and members of the public who wish to give their analysis.

Professor Cristina Rodríguez
 
Over the next six months, both Bauer and Rodríguez will serve vital roles. 

Rodríguez was born and raised in a bilingual home in San Antonio Texas. She worked her way through school and was accepted into Yale College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History, and later attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where she received a Masters in Modern History. 

When she returned to the U.S., Rodríguez enrolled at Yale Law School for her Juris Doctor and upon graduation became a Reginald F. Lewis Fellow at Harvard Law School. 

From 2004-2012 Rodríguez was on the faculty at NYU School of Law, and was a visiting professor at Harvard and Stanford Law Schools. 

From 2011-2013 she served in the Obama administration as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice, where she advised the White House, Attorney General, and executive branch agencies on the extent of their legal authorities. 

In January 2013, she left her position as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General to become Yale Law School's first tenured Hispanic or Latino faculty member. The next year, she was named as the Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law.

Rodríguez is a non-resident fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2020. She was recognized by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences for her accomplishments. Rodríguez was later named a member of Agency Review Teams during the most recent presidential transition. 

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