The Uneasy Alliance in the Democratic Party Is Breaking Over How to Handle RBG's Death

The Democratic Party is showing signs of division following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A debate is emerging about how the party could stop President Donald Trump replacing her and what they should do if he succeeds.

Democrats fell into line behind former Vice President Joe Biden when he secured the presidential nomination earlier this year. His main rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, backed Biden and the two put together a unity platform.

However, Ginsburg's unexpected death has brought the issue of packing the courts to the forefront of Democratic discussions and there's major division on the possibility of adding seats to the Supreme Court following a victory in November.

Biden refused to directly answer a question on court packing on Monday by suggesting it was distraction that would play into Trump's hands.

"It's a legitimate question. But let me tell you why I'm not going to answer that question: because it will shift all the focus. That's what he wants," Biden said.

"He never wants to talk about the issue at hand. He always tries to change the subject."

Other prominent Democrats have publicly embraced the idea of adding seats to the court. The Biden campaign is reportedly unhappy with Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, a liberal who has embraced court packing.

"Mitch McConnell set the precedent. No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year," Markey tweeted on September 19. "If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said "everything is on the table" during a press conference on September 20. Schumer will be leading the Senate if his party retakes the chamber.

However, a key figure in any Supreme Court expansion will be California Senator Dianne Feinstein. As current ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, she would be expected to take the chair in a Democratic majority. She caused fury on Monday by ruling out ending the filibuster to facilitate court packing.

"I don't believe in doing that. I think the filibuster serves a purpose. It is not often used, it's often less used now than when I first came, and I think it's part of the Senate that differentiates itself," Feinstein said.

Without filibuster reform, a Republican minority may be able to hold up any new appointments to the court. Abolishing the filibuster would require significant agreement among Democratic senators.

Democrats in the House have also expressed a willingness to reform the court, though that will be impossible without the consent of the Senate.

"If Sen. McConnell and @SenateGOP were to force through a nominee during the lame duck session — before a new Senate and President can take office — then the incoming Senate should immediately move to expand the Supreme Court," House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler tweeted on September 19.

Vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris has previously expressed support for court packing and the issue is likely to become more urgent when the president announces his nominee. The announcement is expected on Friday.

Vice President Joe Biden in Hermantown, Minnesota
Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks after touring Jerry Alander Carpenter Training Center on September 18, 2020 in Hermantown, Minnesota. Along with the carpenters training facility, Biden also visited with people at a coffee shop downtown and stopped at a fire station. Biden has so far dodged the question of court packing. Drew Angerer/Getty Images