A court reform craze is sweeping American politics.
Rather than backing the political lightning rod that is court packing, FTC supports an 18-year term limit for future Supreme Court justices. Here are the latest updates from FTC and court reform discussions around the country.
A Quinnipiac poll released on May 2 revealed that 59% of voters think Supreme Court justices are too influenced by politics, and 81% believe the confirmation process is too political.
Rasmussen Reports conducted a recent poll of 1,000 likely voters that found only 27% favor adding justices to the Supreme Court, with 51% opposed and 22% undecided. Rasmussen also asked if Supreme Court justices should be subject to term limits, with 54% supportive.
This tracks with a recent FTC poll, which found 81% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans and 76% of independents favor restrictions – either a term limit or a mandatory retirement age – for justices over life tenure. When asked about supporting FTC’s 18-year term limit plan or a court-packing plan, term limits were favored 75%-25% by Democrats and independents.
Justice Breyer Supports Term Limits
In April, when asked about “packing” the Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer rebutted the suggestion and instead advocated capping the length of service for justices at 18 years:
“I think it would be fine to have long terms, say 18 years or something like that for a Supreme Court justice,” he said. “It would make life easier. I wouldn’t have to worry about when I’m going to have to retire or not, and that would be easier for me.”
In case you missed it, Gabe Roth penned an op-ed in The Hill following Breyer’s comments:
“Court packing wouldn’t help disabuse the country of that notion, as it can quite easily be dismissed as a partisan ploy to shift the balance of the court in one direction. On the other hand, the strength of term limits as a reform is its even-keeled nature; it’s a solution that both parties can get behind since it doesn’t disproportionately benefit one party or the other.
A single, standard 18-year term for justices would reduce the politicization of the court, increase the rotation of those serving, guard against cognitive decline and broaden the pool of potential nominees. These are all positive outcomes, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum – and even, apparently, if you sit on the Supreme Court yourself.”
The Stronger Case – Term Limits, Not Court Packing
In response to a recent Plain Dealer column, Roth wrote a letter to the editor outlining the case for why term limits – rather than court packing – is the right reform.
“Columnist Ted Diadiun of the Plain Dealer editorial board recently argued that presidential candidates calling for more than nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court is disqualifying […] But just because one court reform idea is poorly conceived doesn’t mean they all are. That’s why, to reduce the high court’s disproportionate power, diversify the pool of nominees and guard against cognitive decline, term limits for the justices is a solution that both parties should get behind.”
Get Sen. Bennet Some Advil
This week is a good time to recall that “Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) slammed his head on the table four times” when asked about court packing, per the Washington Post’s James Hohmann.
Part of the Problem: An Empty SCOTUS Seat Could Determine Our Next President
Just this week, conservatives expressed fear of losing control of the courts and liberals noted concerns that a second Trump term will only deepen the conservative bench. In reference to Justice Ginsberg’s age, Matt Ford noted in the New Republic: “Trump partially owes his presidency to…Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death… When Trump became the presumptive nominee in the ensuing months, most conservatives rallied around him out of desperation to prevent Hillary Clinton from filling the vacancy.”
An Update from Iowa
In March, FTC traveled to Iowa to talk to voters about term limits and other court-fixing proposals. The results of these conversations – and discussions with voters elsewhere – will be released in the coming months. For now, we’ll share that one thing is clear: most Americans across the ideological spectrum support term limits for Supreme Court justices as a fix to the overt politicization of the court and our broken nomination process.
“Presidential primaries are the incubators for bold policy ideas, and it may take a few cycles for an idea that seems unconventional to break into the mainstream,” FTC’s Roth said. “Right now, most Americans, regardless of party identification, support proposals to end life tenure at the Supreme Court in favor of regular, rotating appointments. Instituting term limits and moving beyond the apocalyptic nomination fights we’ve had recently would incentivize compromise on the court’s holdings, allow more Americans to serve and ultimately reduce the power of what’s become our most powerful, least accountable government institution.”
Rewind to 2016: In Iowa with Republicans
FTC also went to Iowa in 2016 to talk term limits with candidates and voters; at the time, it was Republican candidates who were most supportive of ending life tenure at the high court. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee told FTC at town halls that they supported imposing a fixed term on the justices, while Rick Santorum remained on the fence, and Carly Fiorina noted her opposition, citing her father’s 34.5-year tenure on the federal bench.
According to media coverage at the time, Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio also mentioned ending life tenure at SCOTUS on the trail. In 2012, an 18-year Supreme Court term limit was a key provision in Rick Perry’s presidential platform.