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Letter: Congress has power to set number of justices

Richard Pohorsky

In a letter by Natalie Harwood (“Grassley doesn’t stand for Iowa values,” July 19) criticizing Sen. Chuck Grassley for not acting on the Supreme Court nominee, she says the founders intended the Supreme Court to have nine justices.

Like many Americans, she needs a history lesson. The Constitution gives Congress the power to set the number of Supreme Court judges; yes, the Constitution calls them judges.

The first court met in 1790 with five of the six confirmed judges present. The number of justices has fluctuated from five to 10. The current number of nine justices was set by Congressional action in 1869. It was not the founders that set that number. A law passed in 1789 allows the court to render decisions with less than the full membership. The law permitted a minimum quorum of four judges to decide cases before the high court.

Harwood said the courts are intended to be free of the influence of politics. This may be true in theory, but the reality is quite different. FDR faced a court that declared parts of his New Deal as unconstitutional. He attempted to add justices to “stack” the court with liberals. Key Democratic senators helped to defeat the plan. A then Sen. Barack Obama urged the same game plan in the Senate that Sen. Grassley is using. It is politics — same game, different players.

If you use history to make a point, please know the history.

Richard Pohorsky

Cedar Rapids

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