Dems Seek High Court Term Limits

News: Campaign 2020US News
by Paul Murano  •  •  September 29, 2020   

Propose bill to eliminate life tenure

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WASHINGTON ( - Facing a shortfall of ideological compatriots on the Supreme Court bench, Democrats are pressing for term limits on justices.

The bill, titled "The Supreme Court Term Limits and Regular Appointments Act," is scheduled for introduction on Tuesday. If passed, the measure will put an end to lifetime tenures for justices on the High Court.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

If made law, the measure would limit all Supreme Court justices to 18 years on the bench. It would allow each president to nominate two justices for each four-year term, meaning each U.S. president would max out at four.

Prelude to Packing the Court

Democratic representative Ro Khanna of California, co-sponsor of the bill, claims this bill is necessary in a cultural climate like ours in which Supreme Court justices decide contentious issues in a deeply divided society.

"It would save the country a lot of agony and help lower the temperature over fights for the Court that go to the fault lines of cultural issues and is one of the primary things tearing at our social fabric," said Khanna.

Khanna's Democratic House sponsors include Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts.

The proposal comes on the heels of President Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is Trump's third High Court appointment in less than four years.

This bill also comes after much Democrat chatter about potentially packing the High Court with liberal activist judges, should Biden win the presidency and Democrats win a majority in the Senate. This would bring the number of Supreme Court justices over its current limit of nine, which has been the standard since 1869.

One major obstacle this bill will come up against is the United States Constitution.

According to its sponsors, this would eliminate much of the rancor and contentiousness on both sides of the aisle every time a justice dies or retires from the bench. It would also eliminate the controversy surrounding the appointment a High Court judge within an election year.

Constitutional Amendment?

One major obstacle this bill will come up against is the United States Constitution. Article III, Section 1 allows for lifetime tenure of federal judges "of the supreme and inferior courts." It states these judges enjoy a lifetime appointment and "shall hold their offices during good behavior." This is generally interpreted as meaning that they may hold their position indefinitely unless convicted of a crime.

News Report: Who is Amy Coney Barrett?

Some legal observers note a possible kink in the Constitution. Like Social Security and other measures created at a time when, on average, life expectancy was considerably lower, the Framers of the Constitution may not have been aware of the power they were establishing with lifetime appointments. Supreme Court justices now serve on average more than 25 years. Justice Clarence Thomas, presently the longest-serving member, is entering his 30th year as a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

Some lawyers and politicians who agree with the measure do not think it could pass constitutional scrutiny. These critics of lifetime appointments want to see a new constitutional amendment re-interpreting tenure for federal judges. The authors of the bill, however, hope to avoid constitutional roadblocks by exempting current justices from the 18-year limit.

Crisis: Challenge to Legal Abortion?

The Democratic ticket of Biden and Harris have spoken to what they believe is a "crisis" on the Court. Both have responded positively to the idea of expanding the Court, which would protect a so-called constitutional right to privacy that upholds Roe v. Wade. Two justices on the Court have made comments implying a challenge may be coming to that ruling, which legalized abortion.

In 2019, Sen. Kamala Harris told the New York Times, "I'm absolutely open to it," when asked the question "Are you open to expanding the size of the Supreme Court?" In the same year, Harris told Politico, "We are on the verge of a crisis of confidence in the Supreme Court. We have to take this challenge head-on, and everything is on the table to do that."

Everything is on the table.

Although former vice president Joe Biden has historically rejected the notion of court-packing, he wasn't so certain when recently asked. Biden artfully avoided answering the question from a reporter.

"It's a legitimate question," Biden responded. "But let me tell you why I'm not going to answer that question — because it will shift all the focus."

Almost immediately after Ginsburg's passing, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stated with conviction, "Everything is on the table."

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