Democrats introduce bill requiring term limits for US supreme court justices
The Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization Act (Term), would establish 18-year terms for supreme court justices and establish a process for the president to appoint a new justice every two years.
US House Democrats have introduced a bill to establish term limits for supreme court justices, after an unprecedented term in which the highest court produced a series of deeply conservative rulings upending American law.
In June, a court dominated 6-3 by Republican appointees overturned the right to abortion. It also issued consequential rulings on gun control, the environment and other controversial issues.
The Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization Act (Term), would establish 18-year terms for supreme court justices and establish a process for the president to appoint a new justice every two years. After an 18-year term, justices would be retired from active judicial service.
If the bill were to take effect, the nine justices now on the court would essentially be forced into senior status in order of reverse seniority, as jurists were appointed under the new mechanism.
Supreme court justices are currently appointed for life. The US stands alone as the only advanced democracy that does not have either a fixed term or a mandatory retirement age for judges on its highest court.
“Regularizing appointments every two years will ensure a supreme court that is more representative of the nation, reflecting the choices of recently elected presidents and senators,” Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement.
“Term limits for supreme court justices are an essential tool to restoring a constitutional balance to the three branches of the federal government.”
The bill is unlikely to pass. Republicans have vigorously shot down any attempts to change the makeup of the supreme court. Even if the measure passed the Democratic-controlled House, it would probably die in the Senate, where it would need the vote of 10 Republicans in addition to all Democrats to overcome the filibuster.
Despite pressure from Democrats, Joe Biden has also not indicated any support for changing the way appointments are made, rejecting the idea of expanding the number of justices on the court.
A panel commissioned by Biden last year explored implementing term limits as one of a number of reforms to the court. It noted that the idea is one that has “enjoyed considerable, bipartisan support”. Exploring arguments for and against the practice, the panel noted that opponents of term limits argue they could have unintended consequences, including making the court more political.
“If two seats on the supreme court are guaranteed to open every four years, the court might become even more of an issue in electoral politics than it currently is,” the panel wrote.
“Presidential candidates might have even greater incentives to make promises about who they will appoint, and presidential elections might increasingly appear to the public to also be elections of specific identified persons – now candidates – to the supreme court.”
Confidence in the supreme court is at a record low. Just 25% of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the court, according to a June Gallup poll.
Elena Kagan, appointed to the court by Barack Obama, said last week that if the court “loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that’s a dangerous thing for a democracy”.