Speaking Of Term Limits…

By Montag | Related entries in General Politics, Ideas, Supreme Court

Since we are re-considering the Constitutional Amendment on Presidential term limits, what about trading it in on one for Supreme Court term limits?

Without having to cry “judicial activism” I think most politically aware folks, regardless of party, can point to some court decision they don’t agree with and, in their view, calls into question the philosophy of one (or some) of the Justices. These questions may even be great enough to taint one’s faith in the Court.

The Supreme Court holds checks and balances over the Executive and the Legislative, and has the last word in interpreting the Constitution, after which there is no recourse for appeal. That isn’t necessarily problematic in-and-of itself; but in addition, we give this power to a small group who aren’t elected by the people and hold office for life without so much as a mandatory retirement age.

One proposal calls for a Constitutional Amendment that “…would limit Supreme Court justices to an 18-year term with one seat opening up every two years.”¹

Now I don’t see language in the Constitution that specifically indicates there should be no term limits for Justices, but the proposal contends that tradition mandates an Amendment…

..The Constitution specifically contemplates a separate office of Supreme Court justices, and it logically implies that that particular office must be held for life. For 216 years, Americans have so understood the constitutional text. We think that practice has thus settled the idea that Supreme Court justices currently serve for life. In our view, to change that practice a constitutional amendment is required. [ibid]

And the authors kindly provide the Donklephant Rationale: that the appointment/confirmation process should be less bitterly partisan and divisive…

[continuing directly] The current system of life tenure for justices leads to many abuses. Justices time their departures strategically to give presidents they like an appointment. To maximize their impact on the Court, presidents appoint young candidates to the Court in place of 60-year olds. We believe that Senate confirmations are more bitter because all involved know that they are picking someone who may end up serving 35 years instead of 18, making the stakes much higher in filling each vacancy. [ibid]

Does this proposal seem reasonable?

  1. Calabresi, Steven G. and Lindgren, James T., “TERM LIMITS FOR THE SUPREME COURT: Life Tenure Reconsidered” (April 7, 2005). http://ssrn.com/abstract=701121

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 29th, 2005 and is filed under General Politics, Ideas, Supreme Court. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Speaking Of Term Limits…”

  1. Joseph de Moura Says:

    I belive that we should consider age for retiring Supreme Court Justices. The 80th birthday sims reasonable.
    JM

  2. Montag Says:

    As of 2001, life expectancy for US men was 74.4 years and for women 79.8 years. [Link below.] So I don’t think having a retirement age of 80 would have much of an effect. A 35 year old nominee would still be looking at 45 years before they reach mandatory retirement.
    Life Expectancy at Birth by Race and Sex, 1930–2001

  3. Justin Gardner Says:

    I think they should be in for 16 years. 4 presidential terms. That seems fair to me.

  4. ScottM Says:

    The good reasons for life terms remain. A judge who is appointed for
    a 16-year term at age 50 will have to look at earning a living
    after his term expires. Business/lobying and politics are obvious
    choices, and thus his tenure on the bench becomes tainted by the need
    to make friends while in office.

  5. Koskd Says:

    Good job.

  6. center Says:

    Why worrie about judicial term limits when the whole world of politics is more then totaly corupt.
    All elected positions should be limited.
    No one individual should be able to become a professional politician.
    Term limits should be extended to all positions.
    No one individual should be able to hold any elected post more then eight years in a life time.
    Government service should be just that, service.
    If it was expected that any literate individual will in their life serve in the govenment and be held accountable for their actions our government at every level would be dynamic responsive and truely reflect the will of the people.
    Our government was intended to be, for the people, by the people, and of the people, not a profession for corupt lawyers/politicians.
    Comprehensive term limits would return the government to the people.
    Do this and the much smaller issue of judicial activism will evaproate.

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