Should federal judges and Supreme Court justices have term limits?
November 5, 2015
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
The Constitution has endured for more than 200 years, more or less in its original form. Besides changing how senators are elected, the structure of the government also has pretty much remained intact through the history of the country.
Occasionally, there is a call to change the Constitution’s lifetime appointments for federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, and creating term limits.
Article III, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution says judges “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour,” meaning that federal judges have lifetime appointments as long as they do not commit serious crimes. The drafters of the Constitution thought this would protect judges, who decide on the constitutionality and application of laws, from political influence. They could make decisions that may be opposed by a majority of voters but necessary to protect the constitutional rights of a minority.
Federal judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, but once they are seated, they can stay until they choose to retire or step down, or they die or are impeached.
Presidential appointment of federal judges has led some to question whether they can actually be free of political influence. It is up to chance whether a president gets to appoint a Supreme Court justice. A one-term president could appoint two or three justices while a two-term president could appoint zero; it would be a matter of when a justice decides to step down.
Term limit supporters also argue that people didn’t live as long in the 18th century and that it was nearly unheard of for judges to serve longer than a decade. Now judges serve longer and later in life; some judges are sitting on the bench well into their 80s. Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, said, “There’s no way the founders presumed that the average life tenure would be 26 years. It’s not really the way the founders intended democracy to work.”
Supporters of lifetime appointments argue that the calls for judicial term limits have bubbled up because of the divisive nature of the cases the courts are taking up. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 rulings in high-profile cases are not helping to dissuade them from saying partisanship has infected the independent judiciary.
Term limits, supporters of lifetime appointments argue, would do little to dampen partisan interference, and could even increase the politicking during the appointment process.
Lifetime appointments are the only way to keep the judiciary independent, supporters argue, and term limits would hinder this. The Supreme Court’s controversial rulings are not a sign of political interference, but rather that the justices are being independent, which is what the Founding Fathers wanted, supporters say. “The whole point of having a Supreme Court is to enable it to exercise independent judgment, which typically means that it will help one’s own causes at certain times and will help the causes of one’s opponents at other times,” Duke law professor Neil Siegel said.
Judicial term limits would require an amendment to the Constitution.
What do you think?
Do you agree that federal judges should have lifetime appointments? Should there be term limits for federal judges and Supreme Court justices? Which side’s arguments support your position? Would term limits decrease or increase the independence of the judicial branch? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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