Democrats in of the House of Representatives will introduce a bill next week to limit the tenure of U.S. Supreme Court justices to 18 years from current lifetime appointments, in a bid to reduce partisan warring over vacancies and preserve the court’s legitimacy.
The new bill, seen by Reuters, would allow every president to nominate two justices per four-year term and comes amid heightened political tensions as Republican President Donald Trump prepares to announce his third pick for the Supreme Court after the death on Sept. 18 of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with just 40 days to go until the Nov. 3 election.
“It would save the country a lot of agony and help lower the temperature over fights for the court that go to the fault lines of cultural issues and is one of the primary things tearing at our social fabric,” said California U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, who plans to introduce the legislation on Tuesday, along with Representatives Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts and Don Beyer of Virginia.
Partly due to rising life expectancies, justices serve increasingly long tenures, on average now more than 25 years.
Term limits for high court justices have for years had support from a number of legal scholars on both the right and the left. Several polls in recent years have also shown large majorities of the American public support term limits.
An 18 year term for future appointments (ie past ACB) is sensible for a number of reasons.
- You don’t want Justices carrying on until they are in their 80s or even 90s, waiting for their party to be in power so they can retire. In NZ the retirement age is 70.
- It makes the power balance (over time) on the Supreme Court proportional to which party wins the presidency the most as you get two appointments every four year term. This is much preferable than a lottery that is dependent on when someone dies.
- It would remove any incentive to court pack and increase the number of Justices
If this law had been in place in the past there would currently be a 5-4 majority to Republican appointees. You would have the following:
- Bush appointee – 2003
- Bush appointee – 2005
- Bush appointee – 2007
- Obama appointee – 2009
- Obama appointee – 2011
- Obama appointee – 2013
- Obama appointee – 2015
- Trump appointee – 2017
- Trump appointee – 2019
Of course any change can’t be retrospective and shouldn’t be. But it would be a good change for the future.