How should Christians respond to packing the courts?

What do you know about Court Packing? How do we think about this subject Biblically? Have you started to panic yet? Let’s talk.

President Biden has formed a Presidential Commission to study the Supreme Court, the make-up of that august body to consider the possibility of adding members to the Supreme Court. It’s a process called “Court Packing.” And honestly, both sides are rabid about the subject right now. The Left thinks it’s the only way to get their agenda through, which is probably true. The Right thinks that it’s the end of the world if it happens. Well, let me help you have some context, some historical background on this process of court packing.

The phrase simply refers to changing the numbers of the justices on the Supreme Court in order to have a favorable majority in the direction of your particular political party. We act like this is the end of the Constitution if it happens. But there’s actually a long history of court packing in our American background.

Interestingly enough, the United States Constitution does not prescribe the number of justices who sit on the Supreme Court. That is left to the Congress to determine. And frankly, the number has been changed over and over and over again through the years. Congress originally in the Judiciary Act of 1789 established the size of the Supreme Court at six. Now the reason for that was, as the Colonies became States and America became a nation, George Washington, the First President, had a structure in place where there were Federal Judicial Districts. Those districts were divided into three areas, an Eastern, a Middle and a Southern District. The typical practice in that generation was that each district was presided over by three judges. Those judges were a District Court Judge, who was local to that region and two Supreme Court Justices, who would travel back and forth to sit over cases in that part of the country. There were three districts, two Supreme Court Justices were required for each district. So, the original Supreme Court had six Justices.

Well, that was fine. You say, “Well, but an even number, wasn’t that a problem when there was disagreement?” Well, the original Supreme Court was made up of entirely Federalist judges. They were all of the same political party. So, nobody was too concerned about any disagreements. The problem came when John Adams failed to win a second term as our second President during the lame duck session, which used to be much longer. The election was in November. The inauguration of a new President wasn’t until March. During the months of the lame duck session, John Adams replaced a Supreme Court Justice who retired because of illness. And then he pushed Congress to reduce the number of Supreme Court Justices required to five. What he was trying to do was, in his bitterness toward Thomas Jefferson, who had beaten him in the Presidential election, he was trying to deny Jefferson the opportunity to have a Supreme Court spot that he could fill under his administration. Well, that happened under Adams. By the time Jefferson takes office, Congress immediately repeals it. The number was six justices. Adams made it five. But it never really dropped to five before the law was repealed and the number went back to six.

Well, over the years six became nine as more Supreme Court Justices were needed to cover more Federal Districts that were part of an expanding nation moving westward until almost the Civil War. What happened in the Civil War is that Abraham Lincoln, of all Presidents, decided that he was unhappy with the Supreme Court’s Dread Scott decision. And so he pushed Congress to take what was at that time a Supreme Court of nine people and add a tenth Justice so that he could get an anti-slavery agenda pushed through and approved by the Justices. Lincoln did that.

Well, as soon as Lincoln was assassinated, the Republican Party didn’t like Andrew Johnson, and so they pulled the Justice number from ten down to seven. Because they didn’t want Johnson to have the ability to build the court to favor his policies.

Well, no sooner was Johnson off the scene than we have Ulysses Grant come along. And under Grant’s administration the Supreme Court made a ruling that paper currency was unconstitutional. Congress understood that that would destroy the American economy so they immediately changed the Supreme Court from seven Justices to nine, which allowed Grant to appoint two new Justices and get them approved so that Supreme Court would reverse their previous ruling on paper currency and save the American economy.

What’s the point of all this? We’ve been tinkering with Supreme Court for generations. It’s as American as apple pie. This process of a Presidential Commission to try and study the Supreme Court, this is nothing more than a moderate Democratic President who is under the influence of the radical left part of his party to try and restructure the court to get their agenda through.

That’s what Franklin Roosevelt attempted in the 1930’s. In 1937, because the Supreme Court had rejected a couple of the provisions of Roosevelt’s New Deal, he proposed that a retirement age be assigned to the Supreme Court and that there be mandatory retirement at the age of 70. His proposal suggested that if Justices refused to retire at the age of 70 that the President could then appoint Assistant Justices who had full voting rights in the court. Well, at the time that Roosevelt made this proposal six of the nine Justices were over the age of 70. Which, if they had refused to resign would have potentially allowed Roosevelt to take the court all the way to 15 Justices and fill it with judges sympathetic to his New Deal legislation. Well, the proposal never went anywhere. Congress voted it down 70 to 22. And by the time Roosevelt was finished being President, after more than three terms, seven of the nine Justices on the Supreme Court had been appointed under his administration anyway.

My point is, let’s not lose our minds about this. You say, “Well, it’s really not about the Supreme Court, Pastor. If the Supreme Court is packed with Leftist leaning judges, the problem is not what happens to the Supreme Court. The problem is the agenda that is then pushed through. We pack the court. Then we see the end of the filibuster. Then, we make the District of Columbia the fifty-first State.” In other words, we rig the system in favor of radical Leftist. And if the system is rigged so that the Leftist maintain power, then we will have open borders. We will see guns and ammunition regulated until they are unavailable. We’ll cripple the nation’s international relations as well.

Well, remember TruthCurrents is about thinking Biblically. So, let me suggest something to you. We forget the God Factor. I know it’s easy to say, “You know that just seems too convenient Pastor. You’re just suggesting that we trust God.” Yes, that’s precisely what I’m suggesting. You see, the reality is, the God Factor is what we’re left with as followers of Jesus Christ in this generation. I’m preparing, in a sense, for the worse. But in my mind, I’m not in despair. Why? Because we fall victim too easily to the idea that political problems require political solutions. We’re bent out of shape about the number of Justices on the Supreme Court but we’ve failed to find our prayer closet and go before the Throne of Grace and ask God to do something extraordinary in this nation.

That is not just preacher talk. The fact of the matter is, we have left our strongest weapon: God’s presence among His people. We have left that reality under-utilized mostly untouched. What this nation needs is it needs the churches to begin to do battle, not in the political realm but in the spiritual realm.

Well, you might say, “But America is not a God-fearing nation. How will this work?” Listen, let me tell you something about our history. America, no matter how bad we get, no matter what the majority worldview seems to be at any given moment, America is never more than one spiritual awakening away from a transformed culture and a transformed nation. It’s happened before. The Colonies came together through what was called the First Great Awakening. Sydney Ahlstrom, an American church historian, describes the First Great Awakening as “Americans conversion experience.” After the Revolutionary War the Colonies were about to implode with the immorality and the disease of sin that had so swept the nation after the terrible war that the country had suffered through. The Second Great Awakening transformed America.

Finney’s revivals in the 1830’s; The Prayer Awakening of 1857 and 1858; The Azuza Street revivals in 1906; God has moved significantly in American history. And every time that happens there’s a transformation that takes place. The fact that we are despairing because we’ve lost all of our political clout. We’ve lost our political options. That may in fact be precisely what God is doing to bring us back to a place where we find our way to our knees and use our greatest strength: who we are as a people of God. One spiritual awakening away from a transformed nation.

You say, “Well, but I thought things were going to get worse before the end times? I mean, isn’t this just that unfolding before our eyes?” Well, let me encourage you this way. There are generations over the last two thousand years, time and time and time and time again who understood that they were in the last days. When you look at Scripture, the Bible actually gives us very few specific signs to look for that will identify the end times.  Most of what we judge as end times is just the malaise of a culture that is spiritually dead right now. This may be the end days but it may not be. And all I know is if we assume it’s the end times the temptation is to thrown up our hands and to give up the fight prematurely. That is not what we’re called to do.  

You disagree with the politics of our nation? You disagree with the direction things are going? Instead of whining about how we have no political influence, let me call the Church back to its knees. Put on the whole armor of God. Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God and in prayer make your way to the Throne of Grace. We can see America changed. But like Charles Colson used to tell us, “Spiritual awakening in America will not arrive on Air Force One.”

This is TruthCurrents.

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