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Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder advocated for Supreme Court packing at a Yale Law National Security Group conversation Thursday afternoon, according to three students who attended the event. A Holder spokesperson Patrick Rodenbush later confirmed his statement to The Daily Beast.

The comment came when an audience member asked Holder to clarify his “when they go low, we kick them” comment made in October — a reference to Michelle Obama’s now famous line, “When they go low, we go high”. Holder answered that while civility is an important principle, Democrats are adverse to wielding power like Republicans have, according to Ramis Wadood LAW ’21, who attended the event. Holder went on to say that if he were president and had a Democratic majority in Congress, he would seriously consider adding two seats to the Supreme Court to make up for Mitch McConnell’s “power-grabbing antics” and his blocking of Merrick Garland’s confirmation, Wadood recalled.

Holder’s office did not respond to comment Thursday afternoon.

Several audience members, including Wadood, are researchers for an initiative urging Democrats to expand federal courts called “Pack the Courts.”

“It’s constitutional to increase the size of the court, but is it a good idea? What goes around comes around,” said constitutional law professor Akhil Reed Amar ’80 LAW ’84, who has written about the constitutionality of packing the Supreme Court in his book, “America’s Unwritten Constitution.” “If we Democrats do it in this cycle, then what stops the Republicans from doing it doubly next time around? If we add two, why wouldn’t they add four the next time around?”

According to Kshithij Shrinath LAW ’21, the National Security Group Inc.’s conversation with Holder initially covered topics like national security and civil rights enforcement during Holder’s time as attorney general.

But Holder later discussed “institutional norms” and how the Democrats should respond to the political strategies of the Republicans and the Trump administration. Still, Shrinath added that “a caveat” for Holder’s response was that he had already announced that he was not running for president.

On Monday, Holder penned an Op-Ed for the Washington Post announcing that he will not be running for president in the 2020 election. Instead, he said that he will fight for Democratic success through his role as Chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

Adam Kinkley LAW ’21, who also attended the event, said that he believes that Democrats have the “moral high ground” to be “justified” in adding seats to the Supreme Court. At the same time, he has “political and strategic concerns” that the Republicans would retaliate by adding even more seats.

Holder was the first African American to hold the position of U.S. attorney general.

Skakel McCooey | skakel.mccooey@yale.edu 

Samuel Turner | samuel.turner@yale.edu