Durbin, New Judiciary Chair, Warns Republicans on Blocking Judges

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Should Congress add seats to the lower courts?

There’s a process underway, bipartisan process, to make that evaluation. And I’m open to it; where we can demonstrate the need, I believe we should respond to it. Historically, if you’ve been through the committee for two decades, as I’ve been, you know that as soon as the Democrats come into the majority, Republicans start arguing that we’ve got way too many federal judges. Not enough workload. I want to make sure that we can establish the case based on the sound evidence of the caseload facing the courts and be able to point to some objective criteria.

The Biden administration has a commission on court reform with a report due soon. If it recommended adding Supreme Court seats or term limits, what would you do?

Most people are surprised to learn that the Constitution does not establish nine Supreme Court justices, and we’ve had different numbers over the years, although I think it’s been 150 years. I want to keep an open mind on that as well. I know F.D.R.’s [Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s] experience in court packing. And I realize that in a 50-50 Senate, you have to have your eyes wide open to what is even in the realm of possibility.

On immigration, what is your preferred approach for advancing legislation? Piecemeal or comprehensive?

I think you know how I feel about the issue. That’s my mother’s naturalization certificate over there. The son of an immigrant and proud of it. I’ve really been, I guess, to pat myself on the back, outspoken on the issue for a long time. As author of the Dream Act, I’m still waiting 20 years later for passage into law. And I view this as an opportunity not just on the Dream Act but on the issue of immigration.

Now, let’s step back and look at the political reality. It’s a 50-50 Senate, which means that any measure that I support, and all the Democrats support, still needs 10 Republicans — 10 — to weather the storm on the floor, and to beat back unfriendly amendments. That’s what I’m setting out to find. I think I have three that are prepared to work with me, and I’m trying to figure out what to put together in an immigration bill that brings 10 Republicans on board that is acceptable to the 50 Democrats. I’m working on it literally every day.

Should your committee pursue the status of race relations and white supremacy?

That issue is front and center. I’ve been working on it for years. We’ve passed the point where there were out-of-shape, face-painting individuals cavorting in the woods with automatic weapons calling themselves militias. We have now reached a much different stage of things. And we’re now dealing with a genuine threat of domestic terrorism. We saw it personally, up front, personally, here in the Capitol on Jan. 6.

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