Most Americans Want New Rules On How Long A Supreme Court Justice Can Serve

Three-quarters of Americans believe that the practice of lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court should be ended.

The U.S. Supreme Court building.
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Three-quarters of Americans believe that the practice of lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court should be ended.

Should lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court end? One organization seems to think so, and according to their own polling on the issue, the rest of the country agrees with them.

The confirmation hearings and eventual approval of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh left a bad taste in many Americans’ mouths. According to reporting from USA Today, a majority of Americans (51 percent) disapproved of Kavanaugh being confirmed just days after it happened.

A group called Fix the Court noted in polling on their website that Americans overall think the nomination process is in need of change. In a poll that the group conducted itself (alongside PSB Research), 58 percent agreed that the confirmation process was “broken,” while 42 percent said that it was working the way the founders intended.

The group also asked respondents about some solutions to fix the nomination process — namely, whether it was time to end the practice of lifetime appointments. Seventy-eight percent supported the idea of enacting tenure limits, while only 23 percent said lifetime appointments should remain in place.

The organization itself, on its official website, believes that the confirmation process is a flawed way to select justices, stating in no uncertain terms that “life tenure has turned Supreme Court nominations into a political circus.”

The process of selecting a Supreme Court justice, the group says, isn’t about selecting the best person for the job any longer.

“Instead, the party in charge scrambles to find the youngest, often most ideological nominee (who, at the same time, knows to say the right things at a confirmation hearing) in order to control the seat for decades to come,” Fix the Court states on its site.

At least two justices currently sitting on the High Court have opined openly about the idea of tenure limits, according to a report from The Hill. Justice Elena Kagan saw benefits and drawbacks about instituting a change.

A limit on how long someone could serve could “take some of the high stakes out of the confirmation process” to help people “feel as though no single confirmation was going to be a life or death issue,” she said just last week.

But she cautioned against the idea also, arguing that justices would be worried about what their next “job” would be after their time was up. A lifetime appointment ensured that “nobody’s ever going to be in a position where they need anything from anybody ever again and that’s a really important thing to ensure the judicial branch is independent.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, speaking in 2016, had similar thoughts, but thought that a tenure limit that was longer could work.

“If they were a long term, say 18, 20 years, something like that, I’d say that was fine,” he said.

Although a lifetime appointment isn’t explicitly laid out in the Constitution, any changes to the time a justice could sit on the Supreme Court would likely require an amendment, as justices of the High Court are allowed to serve indefinitely as long as they exhibit “good behavior,” per the reading of the Constitution available at Cornell Law School.