Last Updated on September 25, 2020
House Democrats are set to introduce legislation that would eliminate the lifetime appointments of US Supreme Court justices, replacing the lifetime appointment with a single 18-year term.
US Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), the author of the legislation, along with Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), and Don Beyer (D-VA), plan to introduce the “Supreme Court Term Limits and Regular Appointments Act” on September 29th, 2020.
“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,” Khanna said.
The proposed legislation would restrict every president to two Supreme Court appointments per four-year term. Those appointed under the new scheme would become “senior” upon “retirement” from the high court and rotate down to lower courts.
Aside from the Executive Branch appointment and the Legislative Branch “advice and consent” role, the Judicial Branch is a co-equal branch of government.
The lifetime appointment of US Supreme Court Justices, meant to establish independence from the political trappings of the Executive and Legislative Branches, is codified in the US Constitution though not through any direct language. Article III, Section 1, of the US Constitution states:
“…The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.”
Regarding the independence of the Supreme Court, Northeastern University law professor Michael Meltsner, who specializes in the Supreme Court, made it clear that lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court are necessary to “insulate justices from partisan politics.”
“That was put into the Constitution to preserve the total independence of the judiciary. Once a justice is confirmed and takes a seat on the court, they’re not beholden to anybody,” Meltsner said. “This makes Supreme Court justices free to issue rulings based on the law, rather than political favor.”
Khanna’s move to establish limits on the tenures of US Supreme Court Justices comes at a moment of political tension. President Donald Trump will announce his nomination to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Ginsburg’s death on Saturday and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has stated he will fast track the process of confirmation.
Ginsburg served for 27 years before her death last week.