A bipartisan group of US legal scholars published a working paper on Wednesday that proposed an 18-year term limit for US Supreme Court justices. The scholars from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences proposed the term limits amidst several ethics scandals with several US Supreme Court justices.
The working paper suggests its proposals would “positively impact on the polarization and partisanship created by life tenure by reducing the incentives for strategic retirements and political campaign–style efforts focused on the nominations process, and by improving the reputation of the judicial system itself.” Right now, justices appointed to the US Supreme Court are appointed for life terms. The only way they can leave the bench is by stepping down or through an impeachment vote in Congress. The paper claims that Americans increasingly view the court as a partisan institution, and that the public’s perception of the court has diminished in recent years.
A central recommendation of the report is 18-year term limits for justices. The report notes that, if justices are appointed on a staggered basis, eighteen-year terms will allow two nominations per presidential term, for a maximum of four nominations per president. The report notes that, for this plan to be successfully implemented, it would require the temporary expansion of the court to 11 justices. The plan would also require an amendment to US Senate rules to require the Senate to hold a hearing and vote and give their “advice and consent” within a fixed period of time. As it stands now, a Senate impasse is the most common reason for a nomination to fail.
The report, by its own account, was inspired by both a report prepared by the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the US and a report “Our Common Purpose,” which was written by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. “Our Common Purpose” concerns matters such as expanding the House of Representatives, introducing ranked-choice voting in Federal elections and establishing term limits for Supreme Court justices—among many other proposals. The Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court was ordered by President Joe Biden to analyze “the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform, including an appraisal of the merits and legality of particular reform proposals.”