CJL 2062 Constitutional Law
Hon. Gordon Murray
Supreme Court Tenure
Discuss the pros of lifetime appointment for the Supreme Court Justices.
Discuss the cons of lifetime appointment for the Supreme Court Justices.
Do you think Supreme Court Judges should be appointed for life or should they have a term limits, like officials in Congress and the President?
This country is founded on the checks and balances of our three pillars of government, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. The two other branches of government have limited terms, however the judicial branch has life term appointment for their justices. Although, nowhere in the Constitution does it grant Supreme Court Justices a lifetime appointment. Article III, Section 1, states “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” The statement is open to many interpretations, however “good behavior” turned into lifetime appointments set forth by the Founding Fathers. Which means that Supreme Court Justices can only surrender their duties by resigning, impeachment or death. This paper is therefore designed to analyze the relationship between advantages and disadvantages of life terms for the Supreme Court Justices and whether or not I support the life term.
Alexander Hamilton wrote, “since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty.” Hamilton himself argued that having life terms is a benefit and a unique advantage found only in the Supreme Court of the United States. One of the advantages in life terms is the concept of having an “apolitical judge” or to depoliticize the Judges, not interested or involved in politics (in theory). Not involved or interested in politics allows them to make decision based on their interpretation of the law without fear of Executive or Legislative interference or retaliation. Another benefit presents itself in the freedom from election or re-election. Independent from re-election protects the court from outside special interest groups or powerful companies lobbying for political and/or financial leverage/gain.
On the opposite side of the spectrum exists the possible disadvantages of the life term. Currently we have Justices holding Supreme Court seats hostage until a President is elected that shares their common views and beliefs. Life terms promote the calculated retirement of judges for political reasons. Before his passing in February 2016, Justice Scalia admitted in 2012, that “he hoped to be replaced by a like-minded justice.”(Qz.com Feb 25, 2016 by Noah Berlatsky). A clear demonstration of delaying his retirement strictly for political motives.
Critics have also mentioned the diminished mental capacity resulting from aging. The first 10 justices served for an average of under eight years. And of the 90 justices who retired by 1970, served on average 15 years. Today’s justices are stretching their tenures into their 80’s, making 83 the average age of retirement. This late age retirement is giving rise to the question of mental capability and capacity when rendering decision. For example, William Douglas, who set the record for Supreme Court tenure (almost 37 years), barely functioned during his last 10 months, after a debilitating stroke in 1975; colleagues informally agreed to nullify any decision in which Douglas cast the deciding vote. (Theatlantic.com June 2005)
Some would argue that life terms limit the courts ability to decide on pressing social matters and infringes or delays judgement on issues facing society by maintaining a tight grip on personal perceptives, views and beliefs. Of the thousands of cases presented annually to the Supreme Court, all are reviewed by the Judges and their clerks and most are rejected for presentation before the highest court. The Supreme Court hears approximately 80 to 90 cases a year. However, of the cases rejected who’s to say that case may impact our society and change the manner in which we view social injustice, like the civil right movement.
My research has led me to conclude that limited terms for Supreme Court Justices would be in the best interest of our government and country. Several of the noted disadvantages to life terms, in my opinion have had a negative impact on our laws and society with regards to timing. My greatest challenge with the life term is found in the disconnect between the Supreme Court and public issues. Recently in June 2015, the Supreme Court tackled the same-sex marriage case. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of same-sex marriages. Let’s ask ourselves this question, for how many years did the Supreme Court deny the petition to hear cases involving same-sex marriages? Rejected probably due to the disconnect and the fragmented perceptives of the Justices based on their ages and religious/personal beliefs. Eventually they had to hear the case and cast a decision because society views and beliefs had shifted. The matter couldn’t have been put off any longer, and maybe, the same could be said about the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. How many civil rights cases were rejected solely based on color involving affirmative action, education, bi-racial marriages until Brown vs. Board of Education.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once said “Justice delayed, is Justice denied.” Only when societal norms began shifting did they elect to hear such a cases. Instituting term limits would make the court system more dynamic. It would introduce new minds with fresh ideas and innovative concepts to present day challenges. Eliminate this bipartisan civil war presently taking place in Congress and reduce hostility between the right and left.
We need new and modern perceptive to revitalize the Supreme Court image. Modernize it to keep up with the fast pace societal changes. We need new energy to be injected, not just in the Supreme Court but in our society. Where our citizens see the entire system at work and just the Executive and Legislative branches.
Taylor, S., Jr. (2005, June). Life Tenure Is Too Long for Supreme Court Justices. Retrieved October 2, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/06/life-tenure-is-too-long-for-supreme-court-justices/304134/Berlatsky, N. (2016, February 25). The Supreme Court’s lifetime appointments are ineffective-and borderline autocratic. Retrieved from https://qz.com/624925/the-supreme-courts-lifetime-appointments-are-ineffective-and-borderline-autocratic/Dickinson, K. (2018, September 27). Why are U.S. Supreme Court justices appointed for life? Retrieved October 2, 2018, from https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/why-supreme-court-lPros and Cons of Potential Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices. (n.d.). Retrieved
(October 2, 2018), Pro and Cons of Potential Term Limits for Supreme Courts Justices. from https://www.law.columbia.edu/media_inquiries/news_events/2014/march2014/scotus-term-limitsifetime-tenure