A passionate minority of progressives had hoped that winning the House, Senate, and presidency would result in signed legislation expanding the Supreme Court beyond its current nine members. What they got was a very long and dry report by the “President’s Commission on the Supreme Court.”
The report is a well-written sixth-grade expository essay (remember those?) — on one hand, Court expansion could introduce more diversity among the justices, but on the other hand, it would destroy the rule of law. But, as I read it, the report is as apologetic to the idea of Court-packing as one can be, particularly by blaming Republicans for denying Merrick Garland a position apparently owed him. That said, it’s balanced enough that I’d bet a committed progressive would feel the report skewed too far conservative. As the report notes: “We have endeavored to articulate the contours” of the debate “without purporting to judge the weight of any of the arguments.” What an epic waste of time.
The report reminds me of the worst executive order I can ever remember working on during my four years in the Trump White House: “Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure.” Signed in May 2017, the EO asked for more than thirty reports: a cybersecurity risk report from every agency, a White House report on modernizing IT, a DOD report on implementing IT improvements, an annual DHS report on how agencies can secure their critical infrastructure, and too many more to name.
To be fair, the “draft a report” mentality is understandable. The President has limited power to do much unilaterally. On his own, he can institute travel bans, declare the second Monday of October as Columbus Day, lower the flags on executive buildings, and declare national emergencies. When the people are clamoring for solutions, it’s tempting to write an executive order that talks a big game and generates media coverage (but really just demands a report), rather than appear lazy.
But, what a tremendous waste of taxpayer resources and everyone’s time. The truth is: very few people read these reports. Rather than publish reports that collect dust, wouldn’t it be better, in the cybersecurity context, for example, to just hire experts within each agency who are competent at identifying and fixing cybersecurity weaknesses, and check in with them every once in a while?
When it comes to the Supreme Court, President Biden got what he wanted: news coverage that he understands a “problem,” is considering solutions, and empathizes with people who are frustrated with the Court. But like Biden’s gender strategy report, this Supreme Court report will go into a trash can somewhere on the first floor of the West Wing, never to be cracked open again. Or, at least, let’s hope so.