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Term Limits for SCOTUS Justices

Here’s a good four year-old article from Stephen Calabresi and James Lindgren making the case for abolishing life tenure for Supreme Court justices. Their mathematically sensible advice is that justices should serve for a fixed term of 18 years. This is longer than the historical average for the Supreme Court but considerably shorter than the post-1970 average of 25 years.

A new justice would be picked, on schedule, ever two years. This would eliminate the risk of what happened during the Carter administration when nobody died or retired and consequently by 1992 all the justices had been selected by Republicans. It would also formalize the rhetoric around the idea that “elections have consequences” by specifying in advance what those consequences are.

I don’t have high hopes this will happen, but really there’s no powerful interest group out there that should have a chance to block it. Americans have become, I think, unduly hesitant to tinker with our political institutions. Historically we’ve changed things up quite a bit over the years and I don’t think anyone denies that SCOTUS fights have become problematic. The answer is to update a constitutional provision that was written by people who couldn’t foresee the importance of the Supreme Court in modern politics or the impact of increased life expectancy.

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