by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
Several U.S. Senators recently introduced a bill to place term limits on U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the Supreme Court Biennial Appointments and Term Limits Act imposes 18-year terms on the nine justices. This means a new justice takes the bench every two years, replacing the most senior justice. The proposal allows the president to appoint a new justice during the first and third years of their term. This bill is similar to one introduced last fall in the U.S. House.
Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Alex Padilla of California are co-sponsoring the legislation in the Senate. They highlighted a new provision that would permit justices to continue hearing certain cases past the 18-year limit.
At first glance, judicial term limits appear benign or like a modest reform. They are not. First Liberty has explained at length that ending life tenure for justices is a bad idea. Make no mistake: This a dangerous and constitutionally suspect proposal.
Judicial term limits are simply an attempt to cancel justices. They must be exposed for what they really are: court purging. This is the Supreme Court Coup by a different name. It is packing—and effectively destroying—the Court, two years at a time.
The longest serving member of the court, Justice Clarence Thomas, would be the first to go and make way for a new justice. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito would be next on the list.
That means three of the Court’s conservatives would be purged first. That’s not a coincidence. This is just part of a larger scheme to take control of the Court. It’s about one political party being upset that it can no longer rely on a liberal majority on the Supreme Court to rubber stamp its agenda. They’re trying to bend the rules and rig the Court in their favor, all so they can gain more power.
Why are judicial term limits a bad idea? Because life tenure for Supreme Court justices is essential to judicial independence. Lifetime appointments have worked well for more than 230 years, and judicial term limits would only destroy one of the hallmark features built into our system of government.
Lifetime tenure ensures that Supreme Court decisions are consistent and steady. Remember: the Supreme Court sets precedent that lower courts must follow. If this term-limits bill were to be signed into law, then nearly half the court would be gone in just eight years and the entire Court would be replaced in 18 years. More turnover could lead to more frequent shifts in the interpretation of the law, or even short cycles in which major precedents are discarded only to be reinstated later.
Unlike the other branches of government, federal judges are not elected by the people. The Founders did this intentionally to insulate the judicial branch from the ever-changing winds of the day. It’s how we prevent the Courts from becoming a hyper-partisan institution.
Giving each president two judicial appointments per term will only make the judiciary more political. Every presidential election would essentially turn into an election of the Supreme Court. Appointments would look more like political and ideological pandering instead of careful decisions about a candidate’s judicial philosophy and their qualifications.
This judicial term limits bill is the most recent attack on America’s independent judiciary. But it’s not the only threat. We’re witnessing a full-scale attack on the Supreme Court. The same people, groups and politicians pushing term limits legislation are the same ones who have called for other radical changes.
These include court-packing, “ethics” codes for justices, threatening and intimidating justices, pressuring judges to retire, unlawful protests outside judges’ homes, spreading lies and fabricating scandals to erode public confidence, or even destroying the court’s power of judicial review. Read this article, where we unpack and expose very single one of these tactics.
Don’t be fooled. This is NOT about “restoring balance” or “fixing” the Court. This is about some politicians—along with many of the country’s most radical groups—trying to get around decisions they don’t like. If their politically motivated Supreme Court Coup succeeds, the judiciary will become little more than a tool of whoever holds power. Judges will lose their ability to enforce the rule of law with impartiality, and the last safeguard to our civil liberties—including religious freedom—will be gone.
LEARN MORE: RELATED ARTICLES FROM FIRST LIBERTY