Term limits.

If they’re good enough for the president, senators, congress members and most other elected representatives, why not Supreme Court justices?

Matt hits on a topic I’ve been jonesing on for the past few years – mostly as part of a low-key effort to unseat Scalia and Thomas:

… it’s worth emphasizing what a macabre spectacle the life tenure on the SCOTUS is. When you hear about a candidate for the gig, you need to first go look up his or her age. Then when you hear that Elena Kagan is younger than Sonia Sotomayor, you need to consider that Hispanic life expectancy is generally longer than for non-Hispanic whites. Quick—to the actuarial tables! This kind of decision-making process is unseemly and leads to unsound decision-making. It would make much more sense for Justices to serve a single fixed term of pretty long duration (12-18 years, say) followed by a decent pension.

This sounds reasonable enough.

The way it works now, presidents seem to look for relatively young partisans (say, someone in their mid-40s) who can live long enough to bend the court to their particular ideological bent. But before Bush I’s nomination of Clarence Thomas, I had always assumed the High Court was an honor (the highest in our nation) reserved for an exemplary career in law.

If that’s not the way it works, then I just hope President Obama packs the court with the youngest, healthiest progressives that he can pluck off the federal circuit. To his credit, Obama seems unlikely to resort to that sort of tomfoolery.


Joel Anderson —blackink —  writes about sports, politics, crime, courts, and other issues far beyond his competence at BuzzFeed. He has worked at media outlets in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Atlanta and contributed to a number of publications, including The Root and The American Prospect, among many others.
  • Scott

    I guess the first problem with term limits for the S.Ct would be the Constitution, which gives them life tenure. I can understand your question as life tenure in the 1700’s was quite different from that today given advances in medicine and our long lifespans. As for your statement about a seat on “the High Court being an honor (the highest in our nation) reserved for an exemplary career in law”, if the only example you think you can find is Clarence Thomas, then you haven’t looked all that hard. William O. Douglas, spent more time as a law professor and gov’t employee than as an actual attorney and was never a judge until he joined the S.Ct. He was almost impeached for his financial dealings while as a Justice and to top it off he wanted to give trees standing to sue. In the present case, Obama clearly wants to pick a minority woman rather than find the best over all candidate. I guess Obama has a quota system for the Court.