The Length of a Life

By Spencer M-D. ’25

Photo by Pixabay on

On September 29th, 2020 a new bill was introduced to the House of Representatives which proposed 18-year term limits for the Supreme Court. This bill would provide equal opportunities for each president to nominate justices as well by staggering their nominations to line up with the four-year terms: one for every two years in office. The representative who introduced this bill was Ro Khanna of the 17th district of California. This bill now sits in the House judiciary committee awaiting further action. You may be asking why exactly are term limits necessary? And why has there been no action taken to implement such measures? 

“The Judges, both of the Supreme and Inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour,” (according to Article 3, Section 1 of the United States constitution) Supreme Court Justices hold their jobs for an average of around 17 years. If you compare that number to that of US senators (12.3 as of 2010) and representatives (10.1 as of 2010) you suddenly see the difference in the influence a person in each position can make. The Supreme Court has no term limits and no check on their power through an election or review process. The potential ramifications of a tyrannical justice are immeasurable as the reach of their power applies to any topic that is reviewed by the court. There have been a few proposals to fix this problem, but none have been adopted by Congress. 

To further answer the first question, we turn to the most classic argument of impartiality. Many people have argued to no avail that if there are no term limits there is no way to place a strong check on the Supreme Court, which sets off the balance of the government. Regardless of the branch of government and its purpose, there is a requirement of oversight in some form. 

The answer to the second question is quite simple; as seen in a recent report from the White House, there isn’t support. According to the White House website, “when the National Constitution Center organized separate groups of “conservative” scholars and “progressive” scholars to draft their own proposals for improving the Constitution, both groups concluded that Supreme Court Justices should be limited to eighteen-year terms.” Prominent constitutional scholars, including both liberals and conservatives, originalists and non-originalists, have endorsed the concept of term limits. The suggestion has bipartisan support, yet Congress will not pass the bill. A few experts have suggested that the reasoning for this is that the limitation that Justices serve for life is in the constitution meaning that in order to change it a constitutional amendment is required. 

As we continue to have legislation recommended around term limits it is likely in the best interest of our country and judicial impartiality to set term limits. As said in an article from Social Science Research Network,  “it also results in unpredictable deaths and strategic retirements determining the timing of Court vacancies.” This truly highlights the politicized nature that the court has been unfortunately placed in. If you believe term limits are necessary you may be wondering what the best way to get involved would be, and for that, you can reach out to your Congressional representative and place emphasis on the importance of that topic.    

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