Majority of Americans support term limits for Supreme Court justices, new poll finds

Majority of Americans support term limits for Supreme Court justices, new poll finds
© Greg Nash

The majority of Americans support the idea of setting term limits or an age for retirement for Supreme Court justices, according to a new poll out Thursday from Fix the Court (FTC).

The group, which is working to make the court more transparent and accountable, found in a new online poll conducted with PSB that 78 percent of Americans said they strongly support or somewhat support restrictions on the length of service for U.S. Supreme Court justices.

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“Had the Founders known that one day Supreme Court justices would serve for monarchic 30 or 35 years, they might have considered defining what constitutes ‘good behavior’ in Article III of the Constitution,” FTC Executive Director Gabe Roth said in a statement. 

“Thankfully, there is now consensus across party lines that our elected officials should do something to change these interminable tenures, and we’ll be working with Congress to make that happen.” 

Last week Justice Elena Kagan, an appointee of former President Obama's, told a group at Georgetown Law that she’s happy with life tenure, but she didn’t dismiss proposals to set long-term limits.

“I think what those proposals are trying to do is take some of the high stakes out of the confirmation process and certainly to the extent that that worked and people could feel as though no single confirmation was going to be a life or death issue that that would be a good thing,” she said. 

But she noted that life tenure makes people independent.

“It means that none of us are thinking about the next job we’ll have because we won’t have a next job,” she said.

“And 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.

In 2016, Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee, said it would make his life a lot simpler when asked if there should be set term limits so justices can’t decide when they want to retire based on who they think the president might appoint.

“If they were a long term, say 18, 20 years, something like that, and it had a fix I'd say that was fine,” he said at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools. 

"The thing you don't want is a term so short the person sitting there is thinking about his next job ... as long as you can overcome, then fine."

The poll from Fix the Court also found that 58 percent of likely voters surveyed thought the Supreme Court confirmation process is broken.