By Wide Margins, Likely Voters Believe Justices Bring Political Bias to Their Work, Support Restrictions on Length of Justices’ Service
Democrats, Republicans, Independents All Support Term Limits
WASHINGTON – A new poll out today shows that more than three in four likely voters in the U.S., regardless of party affiliation, support ending life tenure for U.S. Supreme Court justices. Strong majorities across age and gender lines also favor term limits. That’s in stark contrast to the limited support for adding justices to the Supreme Court, also known as court packing.
When asked, “Would you support or oppose restrictions on length of service for U.S. Supreme Court justices, for example, setting a retirement age or capping total years of service,” an overwhelming majority of likely voters indicated support for such restrictions (77% support vs. 23% oppose).
“Unaccountable judges serving for decades and inserting their personal politics into American law is likely not what our founders intended when drafting the Constitution’s ‘good behavior’ clause,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court. “Term limits is a reform that would address the court’s hyperpartisanship, and as the polling data show, it’s one that both parties can get behind.”
“These numbers suggest that the recent momentum behind ending life tenure at the Supreme Court has staying power,” said Adam Rosenblatt, senior strategist at PSB. “Voters recognize that our nation’s highest court is not immune to partisanship and dysfunction, and they want solutions.”
Polling firm PSB conducted online interviews June 8-15 of more than 1,100 likely voters on behalf of Fix the Court, which advocates for non-ideological “fixes” to the judiciary to reduce its politicization, enhance transparency and increase public trust.
Among those polled, 84% of self-identified Democrats, 73% of self-identified Republicans, and 76% of self-identified Independents said they would support term restrictions. Despite the recent commotion around court-packing proposals, 40% of respondents said they would prefer adding 18-year term limits for SCOTUS justices whereas only 15% favor adding additional justices to the court to counterbalance those picked by President Trump (40% prefer term limits, 15% prefer court packing, 16% both, 29% neither).
Even among self-identified Democrats, 18-year term limits was preferred to adding additional justices to counterbalance those picked by President Trump (33% prefer term limits vs. 21% prefer adding justices).
Voters were also asked whether or not they believe Supreme Court justices bring a political bias when considering cases. The majority of likely voters, regardless of political affiliation, affirmed their belief that justices’ partisanship infects decision-making on the bench (65% say justices bring a political bias vs. 35% trust they do not).
One of the criticisms of Fix the Court’s 18-year term limits proposal is that, if implemented, it would add a new justice to the court every two years, and confirmation hearings of that frequency would be too much for the public to handle. That only 22% of Americans, according to the poll, “remember [the Gorsuch confirmation] well” seems to belie that argument.
For more than four years, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, Fix the Court has worked to introduce greater openness and accountability to the Supreme Court. The organization sees term limits as one of several commonsense yet critical “fixes” that can lead to a stronger, more independent and more transparent third branch.
After extensive analysis of the judiciary, an 18-year term limit has emerged as the reform most critical to fixing the issues plaguing our courts. It’s a realistic, compromise solution in a time when so few true compromises feel attainable. A single, standard 18-year term at the high court would restore limits to the most powerful, least accountable branch of American government, increase the rotation of justices serving and broaden the pool of potential nominees – outcomes that would have a positive impact across the political spectrum.
In addition to the support for term limits among likely voters evidenced in the poll, the policy’s viability was recently affirmed by the Los Angeles Times’ Editorial Board and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Further, in a recent op-ed published by Bloomberg Law, Fix the Court senior researcher Tyler Cooper outlines the constitutionality of statutory term limits for Supreme Court justices.
The poll was conducted by PSB Research through online interviews on behalf of Fix the Court. PSB conducted online interviews from June 8 – 15, 2018 among n=1,131 U.S. likely voters. The margin of error for this study is +/- 2.91% at the 95% confidence level and larger for subgroups.