18 Year Term Limit for Supreme Court Justices

Our country is facing a crisis in the judicial branch. Our Founding Fathers intended this third 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 stats largely back up that they’re correct. The number of 5-4 decisions, reflecting the line between Republican-appointed and Democrat-appointed, 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.

While a Constitutional amendment could codify this, it could also be done by a President agreeing to only appoint Justices who will pledge to step down after an 18-year term, and Congress only confirming a Justice making this pledge. Congress would also have to agree to impeach any Justice who refuses to step down for no longer demonstrating “good behaviour.” Note that the number of Justices is not set by the Constitution and has been greater and lower than 9 at different points in our history.

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.

Problems to be Solved

  • The Supreme Court is an increasingly partisan institution.
  • The appointment of new Justices becomes a national fight that damages trust in our institutions.
  • Justices are serving for way too long and splitting along partisan lines.
Guiding Principles:
  • Trust
  • Justice
  • Create a system that allows the Supreme Court to stay above the political fray
  • Return the trust of the American people to this branch of government
  • Prevent the bitter political bickering that comes with the appointment of each new Justice

As President, I will…

  • Propose a constitutional amendment imposing 18-year term limits on Supreme Court Justices.
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