With people’s longevity increasingly approaching the century mark, lifetime tenure on the Supreme Court is itself getting old. Some scholars on both sides of the ideological divide have offered a proposal: an 18-year term limit on Supreme Court Justices’ service. This idea may relieve the nominations process of painful political pressure and bring both accountability and better predictability into our judicial system. And, the term aligns with historic numbers – eighteen years is close to the average term of service on the highest court in the past 100 years.
Why change a time-honored tradition?
Today's Supreme Court is “polarized along partisan lines in a way that parallels other political institutions and the rest of society;” government scholar Norm Ornstein observes.
“Lifetime appointments give presidents the incentive to overvalue younger, more ideological candidates and overlook those who are at the height of their careers,” the nonpartisan Fix the Court group asserts based on Ornstein’s writings.
“Life tenure now guarantees a much longer tenure on the Court than was the case in 1789 or over most of our constitutional history,” Professors Steven G. Calabresi and James Lindgren point out in their paper. They also found Justices remain influential on the court well into their 80s, longer than ever before in American history. These days court vacancies actually delay justice; political storms form too quickly after a Justice who spent decades handing down decisions dies.
Thus, 66 percent of Americans polled during last year’s monumental crisis wanted to end life tenure for Supreme Court Justices, as they endured the colossal failure to fill a departed Justice’s seat.