A Group of Senate Democrats Propose Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices
A group of Senate Democrats has put forth a proposal to limit the terms of Supreme Court justices to 18 years. The aim of this proposal is to increase accountability and ensure that the Court is more responsive to the American people.
Announced on Oct. 19, the bill would require the president to appoint a new justice every two years. After serving for 18 years, justices would no longer be able to hear cases on the appellate docket, where most of the Court’s major cases historically originate, such as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and Roe v. Wade.
However, even after the 18-year term, justices would still be able to hear a smaller subset of cases that fall under their original jurisdiction.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the author of the legislation, released a statement on Oct. 19 criticizing the influence of right-wing special interests on the Supreme Court. He argued that term limits and biennial appointments would make the Court more representative of the public and reduce the significance of each justice’s appointment, while still preserving judicial independence.
This proposal comes at a time when concerns about the age of public servants, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have been raised. The most recent retirement from the Supreme Court was Justice Stephen Breyer, who left the Court at the age of 83.
Sen. Whitehouse’s statement appears to target groups like the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), which he has previously called out by name. JCN has been involved in influencing judicial nominations.
Carrie Severino, the president of JCN, accused Sen. Whitehouse of attempting to eliminate originalist judges through this legislation. She argued that the real agenda behind the proposal is to remove justices like Clarence Thomas, whom she worked for as a clerk.
Sen. Whitehouse has been engaged in an ongoing campaign against the Court, according to Severino. She believes that his latest threat is an attempt to remove originalist justices, starting with Justice Thomas.
Justice Thomas is currently the longest-serving justice on the Court, having assumed office in 1991. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both nominated by former President George W. Bush, have served the second-longest terms.
Sen. Whitehouse has previously filed an ethics complaint against Justice Alito and expressed his intention to investigate Justice Thomas. These actions were prompted by disclosures of gifts received by Justice Thomas from billionaire Harlan Crowe.
The bill is sponsored by seven other Democrats, including Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Traditionally, Supreme Court justices have held lifetime tenure, with the understanding that they should base their rulings on the law rather than popular interests.
Sen. Whitehouse argues that his bill would depoliticize Court appointments. However, under his plan, the total number of justices could potentially increase as they continue to hear original jurisdiction cases even after their 18-year term on the appellate docket.
Many senators from both parties have expressed support for term limits while expressing concerns about the Court’s actions.
Some senators, such as the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have defended lifetime tenure for justices.
According to Article III of the U.S. Constitution, judges, including Supreme Court justices, hold their offices during good behavior, which is generally interpreted as lifetime tenure.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has proposed an alternative rotational scheme, suggesting that appellate judges temporarily serve on the Supreme Court. This would allow for continuity while still adhering to the principle of lifetime tenure.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has previously called for a constitutional convention to establish term limits for Supreme Court justices and members of Congress.
With Republicans securing a conservative majority on the Court and controversial rulings being issued, the political Left has been advocating for Court reforms. Sen. Whitehouse is among those proposing changes to make the Court more accountable to the will of the people.
Planned Parenthood, a prominent abortion provider, has also proposed term limits, citing concerns about the Court’s legitimacy and its alignment with the majority of the American public.
Sen. Whitehouse’s legislation has received endorsements from various groups, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Demand Justice, and the Brennan Center for Justice.
What are the concerns raised by opponents of term limits for Supreme Court justices?
However, proponents of term limits argue that they would help prevent justices from becoming too powerful and would ensure a more diverse and representative Court. They argue that lifetime appointments can lead to justices staying on the bench well into old age, which may affect their cognitive abilities and their ability to effectively serve on the Court.
Opponents of term limits, on the other hand, argue that they would undermine the independence of the judiciary and could lead to a more politicized Court. They argue that by imposing term limits, justices may be more inclined to make decisions based on political considerations rather than purely on the law.
It is worth noting that the proposal put forth by the Senate Democrats does not completely eliminate lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices. Justices would still be able to serve on the Court in a reduced capacity after their 18-year term. This allows for a balance between ensuring accountability and preserving judicial independence.
The proposal has garnered both support and criticism from various groups and politicians. Supporters argue that term limits would bring fresh perspectives to the Court and ensure that the judiciary remains in touch with the changing views and values of the American people. Critics, on the other hand, argue that term limits could lead to a more unstable Court and may undermine its role as a check on the other branches of government.
It remains to be seen whether this proposal will gain traction in the Senate and whether it will ultimately become law. With the current political climate and the deeply divided views on the Supreme Court, any changes to the tenure of Supreme Court justices are likely to be contentious.
In conclusion, the proposal to impose term limits on Supreme Court justices put forth by a group of Senate Democrats aims to increase accountability and responsiveness in the Court. While supporters argue that term limits would ensure a more diverse and representative Court, critics warn that it could undermine judicial independence and politicize the Court. The proposal is likely to spark further debate and discussion on the role and future of the Supreme Court.
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