Biden proposes panel to study reforming 'out of whack' U.S. judiciary

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden delivers remarks during a voter mobilization event, at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Florida, U.S., October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

(Reuters) - Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden said that if elected he would put together a bipartisan commission of scholars to examine reforming a federal judiciary he called "out of whack," noting that there are alternatives to consider besides expanding the Supreme Court.

Biden, challenging Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election, made the comments in an interview with the CBS program "60 Minutes" to air this weekend. Excerpts were released on Thursday.

The former vice president said he would create a bipartisan commission of constitutional scholars including Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives to review the U.S. judiciary.

"I will ask them to, over 180 days, come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it is getting out of whack, the way in which it's being handled and it's not about court-packing," Biden added.

"There's a number of alternatives that ... go well beyond packing," Biden said.

Some on the left have floated the idea of expanding the number of justices from the Supreme Court from the current nine if Biden wins to counter the court's rightward drift in light of the actions of Senate Republicans in 2016 and now. Republicans have decried the idea as "court-packing."

Biden said last week he was "not a fan" of court-packing but has kept his options open. The number of justices has been fixed by law at nine for more than a century. His proposal of a commission allows Biden not to give a definitive answer on court expansion before the election.

Biden's comments were made public on the same day that the Republican-led U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send Trump's nomination of conservative appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote planned for Monday.

Her confirmation would give the top U.S. judicial body a 6-3 majority, which could be important in cases involving abortion, presidential powers, religious and gun rights, LGBT rights and other matters.

Democrats were furious that Senate Republicans moved forward with Barrett's nomination so near an election after refusing in 2016 to allow the chamber to act on a Supreme Court nomination by Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, because it was an election year.

Democrats have accused Republicans of "stealing" a Supreme Court seat.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Will Dunham)

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