Immediately upon losing the Democratic nomination for the presidency, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called on progressives to unite behind Hillary Clinton in November to preserve the Supreme Court’s majority in favor of “a woman’s right to choose” and LGBT causes.
Meanwhile, GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has expressed confidence that Supreme Court fears will keep Republicans loyal in the ballot box. Trump has vowed to nominate conservative candidates to the Court.
The fact that U.S. Supreme Court justices enjoy the perk of lifetime tenure is driving the American election to a sobering extent this year, pointing to the need to implement term limits for U.S. Supreme Court Justices.
The majority of the nine-member Court is eligible for Social Security: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Anthony M. Kennedy, 80 Stephen G. Breyer, 77, Clarence Thomas, 68, Samuel A. Alito Jr., 66, and Sonya Sotomayor, 62. The youngest Justice is Elena Kagan, 56.
It is likely that several Justices will be forced to step down by ill health or even death in the foreseeable future. The next President will nominate candidates to fill the vacancies.
It cannot be healthy for the election of a new U.S. President to be so profoundly influenced by fear surrounding the potential makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The candidates for the Presidency are stoking fear that the Court will divide along political lines and impose a distinct and unwanted ideology on the American public. But that ploy works precisely because the Court has voted along ideological lines for years.
The justification for life-time tenure on the Court is to insure the integrity of the power granted to Court Justices and to protect the Justices from unwarranted interference from the legislative executive branches. But the same goal would be accomplished through generous term limits (ex. 18 years).
And it might be argued that the Court today – specifically the fear of a Court stacked by the new President with extreme ideologues – is interfering with the executive branch and not vice-versa.
The U.S. Constitution does not require the lifetime appointment for Supreme Court Justices and does not prohibit term limits for Justices. The document merely that states that Justices are entitled to hold office “during good Behavior.”
Term limits would both shield the Justices from influence from the executive and legislative branches, while eliminating the fear of Court stacking in Presidential elections.
Another compelling reason for term limits is to reduce the chance of a Justice who is suffering from age-related decline but refuses to step down.