Court Battles

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 Biden 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 Khanna of California, Don Beyer of Virginia and Joe Kennedy 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 Ginsburg and her likely imminent replacement by Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

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 McConnell 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 Trump’s conservative transformation of the federal judiciary.

Tags Amy Coney Barrett court reform Court-packing Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Kennedy Mitch McConnell Ro Khanna Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court term limits

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