Our Founding Fathers intended the judicial branch of government to be free of political pressures, interpreting and applying the Constitution to the laws passed by Congress in order to ensure that no violations were found.
Today, the Supreme Court is increasingly polarized around political lines, and the selection of a new Justice is a bitter fight that divides the country. The process has become increasingly contentious, and very few Americans believe that the Supreme Court is impartial.
The first step in ensuring that the Supreme Court doesn’t lose the faith of the American people is to establish a clear code of ethics that applies to the Justices. Currently, all inferior courts have a Code of Ethics applied to them, and violations can be litigated. However, as the Supreme Court of the land, there’s no applicable Code that applies to its members.
Congress has put a few requirements on Justices - recusement requirements and financial disclosure requirements - that the Justices have abided by. It’s time that a full Code of Ethics is established, ensuring that people know our Supreme Court Justices are acting ethically.
Additionally, the stakes involved in the appointment of Supreme Court justices are creating partisan battles that divide our country, create bitter resentment, and allow individuals to delegitimize later decisions with which they disagree.
The stats largely back up that we do have a partisan problem on the Supreme Court. The number of 5-4 decisions, reflecting the line between Republican-appointed and Democrat-appointed Justices, has increased in recent years. When a new seat opens up, lifetime appointments incentivize finding the youngest, most partisan jurist who can gain confirmation in order to ensure a particular bent on the Court for as long as possible. Current Justices can expect to serve for 40 or more years. For historical context, the average Justice has served for 15 years, though Justices appointed since 1970 have served for an average of 26 years.
This isn’t the way it was envisioned at the founding of our country, when life expectancy was shorter and Justices would often retire or resign well ahead of their deaths. We need to return some level of sanity and balance to the Supreme Court.
The answer to this is to impose term limits on Justices, and set their terms at regular intervals. Each President should be allowed to appoint two Justices per term served, in their first and third years in office.
Problems to be Solved
- checkThe Supreme Court is an increasingly partisan institution.
- checkThe appointment of new Justices becomes a national fight that damages trust in our institutions.
- checkJustices are serving for way too long and splitting along partisan lines.
- The fact that we are freaking out about the health of an octogenarian judge is a sign of just how badly we need to reform the Supreme Court. Let’s make it predictable and rational instead of having an appointment impact laws for 30 years after the fact - a lot can change in 30 years. An 18-year appointment would be long-term enough so that justices can operate independently without making each appointment a political deathmatch. We are capable of better than this if we simply adopt a more balanced approach.
- checkCreate a system that allows the Supreme Court to stay above the political fray
- checkReturn the trust of the American people to this branch of government
- checkPrevent the bitter political bickering that comes with the appointment of each new Justice
As President I will...
- Work with Congress to pass a clear Code of Ethics that applies to the Supreme Court.
- Propose a constitutional amendment imposing 18-year term limits on Supreme Court Justices, with terms staggered so that there’s one retirement every other year (each President gets 2 appointments).
- Allow for “off-cycle” appointments, having the President “forfeit” their next appointment to maintain parity.