Dozens of legal experts throw weight behind Supreme Court term limit bill

More than two dozen constitutional law experts on Friday voiced support for a bill that would establish 18-year term limits for Supreme Court justices, adding scholarly backing to one of several court reform proposals that have gained traction in recent weeks.  

The endorsement comes a day after Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE said he would form a bipartisan group to study and recommend court reform options in the first year of a Biden administration. 

In a letter released Friday, 30 scholars threw their support behind a term-limit bill that was introduced last month by Democratic Reps. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally Democrats to determine leaders after disappointing election MORE of California, Don Beyer of Virginia and Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyConor Lamb defeats Trump-backed challenger for reelection in Pennsylvania Van Drew fends off challenge from Kennedy after party switch Markey wins reelection in Massachusetts MORE III of Massachusetts. 


The legislation would set up 18-year terms for Supreme Court justices. To avoid clashing with the Constitution’s grant of life tenure to federal judges, justices would be given the option to continue serving on lower federal courts after their Supreme Court term expired.

“We are pleased that a formal legislative proposal to limit future justices to 18 years of high court service has been introduced and is advancing public discourse on court reform,” the scholars wrote.

“Though the bill is not perfect," they added, "we believe it to be a critical piece in prescribing how our country’s leaders can work to depoliticize the Supreme Court and its confirmation process.”

Among the signatories were Ted Kaufman, a former Democratic senator from Delaware, and Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Notable law professors who have written extensively about judicial reform also signed the letter, which was organized by the court reform advocacy group Fix the Court.

The push for Supreme Court term limits is one of roughly a half-dozen ideas that have gained salience following the death last month of the staunchly liberal Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgCOVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries Defusing the judicial confirmation process Conservative justices help save ObamaCare — for now MORE and her likely imminent replacement by Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettAlito to far-right litigants: The buffet is open Hispanics shock Democrats in deep blue California COVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries MORE.


Liberals have warned that Barrett’s expected confirmation Monday will cement a 6-3 conservative majority court that stands to strike down ObamaCare as early as the court’s current term. Critics also say Barrett would vote to roll back abortion rights and environmental regulations, while broadening big-ticket conservative agenda items like more expansive gun rights. 

The plan to impose term limits on justices is seen as a less extreme approach to reform than some other ideas that have been floated in progressive circles. One proposal, often referred to as “court packing,” would expand the number of seats on the bench to make room for additional liberal justices.

Biden for weeks has refused to take a position on court packing, to the chagrin of progressive. His announcement Thursday in a “60 Minutes” interview that he would create a court reform commission did little to tamp down frustration among left-wing leaders.

“We don’t need to be promised a nice report about reform delivered to the White House,” said Yvette Simpson, who heads the progressive group Democracy for America. 

“We need Vice President Biden to assure Americans that he will take bold action to ensure our courts don’t remain dominated by a right-wing fringe installed by Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE to attack abortion rights, destroy health care reform, and dismantle our democracy,” she added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a key ally in President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE's conservative transformation of the federal judiciary.