Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Term limits?

Bruce Bartlett thinks that we ought to limit Supreme Court justices to one 18 year term (longer than the historical average), with appointments staggered so that one is made every two years. This would diminish the intensity of the appointment battles without compromising the independence of the justices, he argues. What think you, gentle readers?

Discussions - 19 Comments

I believe all political positions, elected and appointed should have term limits. Every judge, legislator, and appointee should return to the civilian world after a ’brief’ stint in public service. I believe our laws would change if these individuals knew they would be living under them within a few, short years. Nothing breeds despotism like longevity. We seem to do quite well with Presidential term limits. Many states have limits on governors and other positions. It’s time for the judges to have limits too. We do not need an aristocracy, which lifetime appointments breed.

on the other hand, there’s Larry Householder and the Ohio Statehouse....

I agree...term limits are a good idea. These officers almost become hereditary, and that’s never good for a republic. As for the SCOTUS, currently there are no effective checks and balances on that branch of government, and we are all paying an enormous price for it. I’d whittle it down to a 10 stint on the court.

Our nation already has a mechanism in place for limiting terms: It’s called the Ballot Box.

Try this for plausibility: We should limit the president to one term of two years. This would diminish the intensity of presidental campaing battles. You buy that?

Nice thinking but it won’t work. Knowing today’s liberals, they still won’t be able to get their agenda passed via the legislature so they’ll still rely on judicial fiat. Therefore, they’ll fight like hell to make sure the Scalia and Thomas-types won’t be reconfirmed.

I would think long and hard before changing the framework of the government the Founders established. We should not seek to change the Constitution simply because things are not going our way. I don’t think term limits are the answer.
(Lincoln could explain the reasoning much better than I- check out his thoughts on Dred Scott)

Term limits are a great idea; they probably would help to decrease the ability of partisans to entrench their allies in the Court. Should be extended to the rest of the federal bench as well. Other things that would help to take some of the heat off the nominations process: mandatory retirement at 65, an uncontroversial supermajority requirement (say 2/3), and a selection procedure that includes both the Senate and folks from the executive branch.

Bartlett’s analogy with the Federal Reserve Board is apt. If people are serious when they say that the Court is supposed to be above politics, there should be an institutional mechanism to help ensure that result.

Every president popular enough to get reelected should be able to name a majority.


My gut reaction: Good idea, because it recognizes reality and attempts to grapple with it. "Reality" being the enormous role of the courts in today’s society, and the close relationship between political ideology and court rulings.

A term limit, creating a guaranteed opening very two years, would accomplish at least two good things: First, it would make the justices less godlike in their own and our minds. Second, it would guarantee public input into the Court’s makeup twice in each presidential term. Not only would this create more accountability than the Court now has; by making Court appointments a regular, guaranteed feature of presidential and congressional campaigns, it would help educate the public about the courts and constitutional interpretation. Which could only be good for conservatives and originalists. The current situation being terrible for us, I’ll take the gamble.

Seem to me that term limits would increase the political mess we have, no thanks.

This question should be decided by the following test: Is that consistent with the intent of the Framers of the Constitution?

I don’t think it is. Justice John Marshall served for 34 years during the time of the Framers. If there was a problem with the length of tenure, the Framers would have imposed term limits.


I disagree. We should be bound by the intent of the Framers in interpretation the Constitution, but this shouldn’t prevent us from considering amendments that may be needed. The liberals at least have this right: Circumstances and needs do change. There is absolutely no question that they have changed radically with respect to judicial tyranny. Constitutionalism, if it’s so rigid as to preclude us from considering whether an amendment is advisable, is indeed the dogma of the past, inadequate to the stormy present. More crudely put, it ties the hands of conservatives when the liberals are throwing everything they have at us. As was well said in another context: The Constitution is not a suicide pact.

No one would suggest treating Judges like politicians if they judiciary stopped acting like politicians - and term limits would do nothing to discourage that.

What’s necessary is a rediscovery of the role of the judiciary intended by the founders & obtaining the gonads to implement it.

...And the way that is done is by impeaching judges who legislate from the bench. This will never happen because Orrin Hatch, Mike "the Children’s Senator" Dewine, and Weeping George - among others - do not like to read mean things about themselves in the New York times.

I am a little apprehensive to start changing the way our justices serve. I think the real problem is with our elected officials. We need to hold our elected officials more accountable. Congress has every authority under the Constitution to limit the scope of the court. I am not saying that we need to start having Congress but in left and right but they were given that power by the framers for a reason and it was done in order to keep the judges in check. For example, if we would hold our Congressmen accountable to the people there is no reason why congress can’t lets say pass a resolution stating what property rights are, how they should be enforced and tell the court they have no business ruling on the matter. It is just a thought.

The Constitution is a work of Man, and therefore fallible. I’ve always thought that one of its major flaws was the comparative lack of a system of checks-and-balances on the Judiciary. As Patrick Henry warned, we are now paying the price for that "loophole." In our balanced system that pits autocrats, oligarchs, plutocrats, and democrats against one another, the oligarchs have come out on top. Terms limits for all of them would be a good thing...of course, we’d occasionally have to say goodbye to a stalwart (e.g., Scalia), but overall I think it would be a better system.

I believe term limits were not considered by the founding fathers because they didn’t believe legislators and judges would be full-time positions. And they depended upon individuals to acknowledge the temporary status of their positions and resign after serving a number of years. No President served more than 2 terms until FDR. It was a self-imposed term limit. I don’t have statistics on average length in office for the early Congresses or Supreme courts, but it would be an interesting study. Are today’s pols more apt to stay longer than their historical peers?

I would point out that Ohio’s Supreme Court Justices are limited to a term of 6 years -- (by election not appointment). Supreme Court elections have been highly contentious over the past 4-6 years. Legislation to extend the length of terms from 6 to 12 years has been introduced (with the support of the Ohio Bar and Chief Justice Moyer) in both the Senate (Grendell R - Geauga) and the House (Seitz R- Hamilton). Ohio is one of the few remaining states that does not have merit selection in some form.

Term limits have been disasterous in Ohio and, I would wager, every other state that has tried them. If you do not believe me, take a look at the headlines in the paper. Besides, what makes 18 the magic number?

Perhaps a better solution would be if our legislators were to adhere to their constitutional duties -- both in respect to ’advise and consent’ and ’impeach.’

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