Linda Greenhouse over at the NYT has an article today on proposals to end life tenure for U.S. Supreme Court justices.  The main one would appoint justices for 18-year terms, after which they’d remain federal judges but wouldn’t regularly sit on the Court.  Ms. Greenhouse cites several books and articles, including UT law professor Sanford Levinson’s "Our Undemocratic Constitution".

From 1789 through 1970, the article points out, justices’ average tenure came to about 15 years.  But in the 37 years since, the average grew to more than 26 years.

The 18-year-term notion would assure that each president has a chance to appoint at least two justices in four years.

Blawgletter suspects that the calls for term limits reflects unhappiness with individual justices’ recent behavior.  Complaints include:

  • At 87, the seemingly immortal John Paul Stevens has served on the Court for 32 years.
  • Chief Justice William Rehnquist encouraged Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to leave while he stayed until his death.  Their replacements shifted the Court to the pro-business, pro-government right.
  • Justice Antonin Scalia went hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney while a case against the VP pended before the Court.
  • Justice Clarence Thomas still seems angry about his confirmation hearings.
  • Bush v. Gore.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to do something similar in the 1930s.  We doubt that any president, or presidential candidate, will fail to recall the whuppin’ he got for that "court-packing" plan.

Barry Barnett

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