Should justices on the U.S. Supreme Court be subject to term limits? That’s one of many questions that a commission established by President Joe Biden to consider court reforms is currently considering — and it looks like they may be leaning in that direction.
Fox News reports that Biden’s commission was slated to hold a public meeting Friday to discuss the idea, among other things.
Fox added: “Ahead of that meeting, the bipartisan panel of judicial experts released a set of ‘discussion materials’ that appeared to show the commission’s interest in imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices.”
It’s the same commission that was once reported to have been considering adding justices to the Supreme Court bench — a proposal progressives have touted as a solution for the court’s current conservative tilt.
Packing the court
Referred to as “court-packing,” the idea of adding justices to the court so as to alter its ideological make-up gained traction after then-President Donald Trump’s nomination of now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump appointed three conservative justices in just four years in office.
Biden was hesitant to endorse court-packing on the campaign trail directly, instead putting together a commission to study the issue after taking office. Recently, the commission put out a report that declined to take a side, saying there was “profound disagreement among commissioners,” as Fox reported.
Term limits are an entirely separate issue, and it’s one that it seems the commission may be on board with.
Making the case
The traditional rationale for lifetime appointments is the practice helps justices on the nation’s highest court to remain impartial by ensuring they don’t need to worry about getting re-elected or finding their next job while issuing rulings.
Given how politicized the high court has become, however, some say that argument is losing weight.
“Forty-nine states don’t allow tenured lifetime judgeships, including those in which we both served, and it’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court to follow suit,” noted Wallace B. Jefferson, a Republican and former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and Ruth Van Roekel McGregor, a Republican-appointed former chief justice of Arizona’s high court, in a July piece for NBC News.
The retired judges add:
The unpredictability of when seats open on the Supreme Court, coupled with the smaller number of seats available compared to the rest of the federal and state judicial system, also makes each opening highly consequential. And pressure can mount for justices to strategically time their departure to align with the politics of the president, reinforcing the partisan nature of any transition.
It would be preferable, of course, to get the politicization out of the justice system and continue without term limits. But how does one close Pandora’s box once it’s been opened? At the very least, a debate over term limits would be much more preferable to the completely nonsensical court-packing scheme that Democrats are pushing.