Setting Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices Is a Logical Beginning

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Term Limits
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After recent controversial decisions by the Supreme Court on abortion, the 2nd Amendment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), religious freedom, and Indigenous tribal affairs, the discussion of establishing term limits and impeachment has significantly increased in the news and on social media. Since a series of impeachments are unlikely, term limits are a logical beginning.

Ending lifetime appointments should not be a conservative vs. liberal discussion; historically, it has not.

During his bid for U.S. President in June 2015, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee posted a pledge on Facebook, “I will fight for term limits for members of Congress and judges.” Earlier that year, he told reporters:

Nobody should be in an unelected position for life. … If the president who appoints them can only serve eight years, the person they appoint should never serve 40. That has never made sense to me; it defies that sense of public service.

President Joe Biden empaneled a commission on April 9, 2021, after Democrats demanded: “What they called the ideological balance on the court,” according to The Washington Post. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States voted unanimously to submit its 294-page report on its findings.

Term Limits
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It is not easy to know what the president will do since during his campaign said he was against term limits for the Supreme Court. “It’s a lifetime appointment. I’m not going to attempt to change that at all.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) posted a series of tweets on June 24, 2022, after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Congress must address “the politicization of the Supreme Court that paved the way for this decision. It is time to end lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court to restore judicial independence and trust in the highest court in the land.”

He tweeted it was time for Congress to pass and the president to sign his bill to set 18-year term limits. Democrat Reps. Khanna (CA-17), Don Beyer (VA-08), Barbara Lee (CA-14), and Rashida Talib (MI-13) reintroduced the Supreme Court Term Limits Act, which was initially introduced last legislative session.

Why do Supreme Court Justices have life-long appointments or life tenure? Scholars claim the Founding Fathers established this rule in the United States Constitution; Article III, Section 1: “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour…” But, who determines the meaning of “good behavior” and enforces those rules?

Term Limits
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The Federalist, a collection of 85 essays written to help Americans better understand the U.S. Constitution, offers some clarification. In “Federalist Essay No. 78,” Alexander Hamilton wrote the judiciary (courts and judges) must be independent of the government’s legislative (politicians and lawmakers) branch. He claimed that life tenures freed judges from political pressure that might happen if they must be re-appointed or re-elected. Freeing justices from this pressure enables them to guard against laws contrary to the Constitution, according to APGoPo, an Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics college-level course.

Hamilton added that because being a judge places great demands on a person and few “men” have the requirements and ethical qualities, life-long appointments are necessary. He asserted periodic appointments would discourage qualified from seeking the position. He thought this would lead to a judiciary filled with less competent and principled judges.

One of those principles Hamilton refers to is understanding that laws cannot conflict with the will of the people — the U.S. Constitution — as opposed to those passed by elected representatives. The justices’ job is to interpret if a law violates that principle, according to APGoPo.

Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers argued against lifetime appointments of SCOTUS Justices.

British columnist wrote this prophetic line: “The Supreme Court has now set the nation on a path that will be politically and socially disastrous.” He is correct.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

The Washington Post: Mike Huckabee suggested term limits for the Supreme Court today. That’s not such a good idea. By Janell Ross
The Washington Post: Biden’s Thorny Options for Changing the Supreme Court; by Kimberly Robinson and Madison Alder
AXIOS: First Look: Ro Khanna to push Biden to back SCOTUS term limits; Sophia Cal
The White House: Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States
Congressman Ro Khanna: RELEASE: REPS. KHANNA, BEYER, LEE, TLAIB INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO SET SUPREME COURT TERM LIMITS, APPOINTMENTS SCHEDULE, WITHOUT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
Congressional Research Service: A Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court? Legal Questions and Considerations; LSB10255.pdf

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of risingthermals’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of The Wolf Law Library’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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