Bernie Sanders Proposes Modifying Supreme Court Term Limits, Or Rotating Judges, To Depoliticize The Court

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Senator Bernie Sanders spoke on Monday regarding the increasingly discussed desire to change the shape of the now overtly-politicized Supreme Court, as reported by CNN.

In recent years, the nomination of Supreme Court justices — who, under current rules, are appointed by a sitting president to serve lifetime appointments — has become a fiery political battleground. As explained by Reuters, these arguments escalated in 2016, when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instructed the Republican senate to refuse meeting with and/or considering President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in favor of leaving the seat open for the entire year before the 2016 election.

Since then, Donald Trump has appointed two conservative Supreme Court justices, decidedly pushing the court to the right for decades to come. As a result, some Democratic activists have proposed adding on to the current number of Supreme Court justices — rather than waiting for retirements — thereby allowing Democrats to re-stack the court in their direction.

Sanders, though, would prefer to take a different approach. When answering questions at a “We the People” summit in Washington, the 2020 candidate argued that court-stacking would set a negative precedent. “My worry is that the next time the Republicans are in power they will do the same thing. So I think that is not the ultimate solution.”

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However, Sanders is extremely open to making major reforms to the Supreme Court’s current structure. The first possibility Sanders notes is enacting term limits, an idea that has circulated down both sides of the aisle for years. This would address the rather undemocratic lifetime power given to high-powered justices. According to Vox, having justices serve limited terms, in a staggered schedule, would mean frequent turnover, and a less-desperate power struggle.

One of the more surprising proponents of this reform is actually Chief Justice John Roberts, who, in a 2015 New York Times interview, noted that, “Setting a term of, say, 15 years would ensure that federal judges would not lose all touch with reality through decades of ivory tower existence.”

If term limits are not an option, Sanders suggests, an alternative would be to rotate judges to the appeals court, rather than having a set number of Supreme Court justices always locked in. This so-called “panel solution” — previously proposed by scholars Ganesh Sitaraman and Daniel Epps — would have justices be composed of a “panel,” selected at random from a pool of associate justices, for a period of only two weeks. Once these weeks were up, a new, equally random panel of judges would replace them.

The 2020 election is still in its earliest days, but if Sanders’ comments are any indication, it seems the future of the Supreme Court will be a hot topic on all sides.