Alongside cosponsors from California, New York, Texas, and Tennesee, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse introduced new legislation in the U.S. Senate on July 26, 2022. The legislation relates to the "Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization (TERM) Act." The TERM Act would limit justices' years in active service to 18, with a new justice taking the bench every other year. [i]
Presently, the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest Court in America, appoints justices for life. Sources have indicated,
With all the harmful and out-of-touch rulings from the Supreme Court this last year, legislation creating 18-year terms for justices is essential."
Many feel that applying 18-year term limits would create what some individuals believe are much-needed checks and balances of the Supreme Court. [ii]
Checks and balances are intended to prevent any one entity from monopolizing power. Checks and balances are illustrated through the separation of the government into its three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial. By separating each branch, the intent is to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful. [iii]
Despite the Nation employing checks and balances with ease, some believe that the SCOTUS has recently monopolized power with its recent rulings and its overturning of longstanding case law. As a result, representatives across the Nation are working together to push for the TERM Act's success. Those supporting the TERM Act allege that this bill would allow us to
begin to see a Court that better represents this nation and that better reflects the public whose rights it is responsible for protecting."
Even with many agreeing that the TERM Act would be beneficial on several fronts, some assert that such a bill will never pass. This is believed to result from requiring 10 Republican votes plus all Democrats. This majority vote would allow Democrats to overcome the filibuster and for the legislation not to die in the Senate. [iv]
Furthermore, some argue that appointing a new justice every other year and implementing term limits makes the SCOTUS more political overall. Despite overall confidence in the Supreme Court being reported at a paltry 25%, based on the foreseeable requirements, it does seem unlikely that the TERM Act will not die in the Senate. [v]
Unfortunately, what appears to be necessary is a meeting of the minds to find common ground concerning regulating the Supreme Court justices' time served. Suppose it is so that the vast majority of the Nation does not desire to control the Supreme Court with the suggested TERM Act. How else then can checks and balances be conducted on the Supreme Court to ensure the Court does not "lose all connection with the public and public sentiment?" [vi]
Digging further into the issue, an AP-NORC Survey indicated that 67% of Americans favor implementing a specific number of years that justices serve. Even with statistics showing a high majority favoring term limits, why then are attempts to introduce an Act limiting Supreme Court justice terms shot down and seemingly unpassable? Does this somehow indicate a breakdown somewhere in the system? [vii]
[i] Hank Johnson, Rep. Johnson Introduces Supreme Court Justice Term Limit Measure to Restore Balance, Legitimacy for SCOTUS, (Jul. 26, 2022)
[iii] Ben's Guide, Branches of Government, (2022)
[iv] Sam Levine, Democrats introduce bill requiring term limits for U.S. supreme court justices, (Jul. 27, 2022)
[vii] AP-NORC, Americans have lost confidence in the Supreme Court, (Jul. 27, 2022)