The Supreme Court is the highest judicial instance in the United States, with Justices appointed by the President with the Senate’s approval. The appointment lasts for life and can only be interrupted by voluntary registration or impeachment. Recently, the need for reforms has been increasingly discussed. Many people believe that life tenure for Supreme Court Justices can have harmful consequences. According to Kearney, “the federal court system purports itself to be apolitical, but its decisions have far-reaching political implications” (2019, p. 35). Therefore, the question of the imperfection of the system of appointments became quite acute. In this regard, many solutions have been proposed, but controversy, nevertheless, does not subside.
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Arguments for Lifetime Appointment
The appointment of Justices for life, despite the current public controversy, has historically been necessary. Framers conceived it to guarantee that Justices would be as non-partisan as possible (Kearney, 2019, p. 37). By removing their need to run for re-election on various political platforms every few years, federal Justices are expected to be impartial in the court decisions to uphold the law. It was assumed that Justices would be guided not by political ideas but exclusively by their law and justice notion. Therefore, seem fair the concerns that “a term-limited Justice might see the Court as the perfect jumping-off point for a presidential run” (Epps & Sitaraman, 2019, p. 174) As a result, the Court becomes detached from the people, which sounds reasonable from the point of view of democracy.
In this case, the lack of an opportunity to choose the Supreme Court Justices can be considered another necessity. Despite this, the Justices chosen by the people become representatives on the bench making them think about the upcoming elections and getting votes (America From Scratch, 2018). Such a more politicized model can force Justices in some cases to reject fair decisions in favor of more popular ones. There is another possibility that “the Supreme Court will be a campaign issue in every presidential election” (Epps & Sitaraman, 2019, p.174). Thus, life-long appointment protects Justices from participating in the struggle for votes, which also insulates them from participation in the political process.
Arguments against Lifetime Appointment
In recent years, many proposals have been made on the terms of the appointment of Justices. The most popular of these is to limit the term of office. This proposal is motivated by assuming that current Supreme Court Justices are much older and have held office much longer than before. The reform’s proponents’ central claim is that long term office forces Justices to make less justified decisions due to mental decrepitude. Kearney (2019) notes that it is true for the current Supreme Court that “many justices spend decades on the court and do not retire until their seventies, eighties, or even nineties” (p. 39). The modern level of development of the healthcare system allows increasing life expectancy, which is the reason for the “aging” of Justices.
All the main fears of the supporters of reforms are associated, for the most part, with the Justices themselves. Besides being old, “justices are now more likely to consider the party in power when deciding when to step down in order to maximize the chances that their successor will share their ideological views” (Kearney, 2019, p. 39). The irremovability of Justices contributes to the consolidation of the existing order. They are waiting for successors who will be able to continue their work, people with similar views. Thus, the Supreme Court system is gradually becoming obsolete because its representatives have been in office for many decades, transferring power to the same Justices.
Opinion on the Issue
The need to impose a limitation on the terms of office of the Supreme Court Justices has been discussed for several decades. In my opinion, although the President and members of Congress have such limits, there is no need for them for Justices. As discussed above, the courts should not have a political bias, nor, in my opinion, should be dependent on the electorate. The 18-years term seems long, but limited nonetheless. During this period, Justices will inevitably think about ways to increase their popularity. Regardless of whether they are elected or appointed, they will have to make certain decisions that are not consistent with justice principles. I have not considered all the nuances of such a vast issue, but at this stage, I support the existing system.
Justice should always be the foundation of any court and any legal process. The state relies on three branches of government, which are closely interconnected. Politics is undoubtedly the foundation of any state, but it should not permeate everywhere. Modern Supreme Justices are indeed in office longer than before, but this has no negative effect on the Supreme Court’s decisions. The system needs changes from time to time to adapt to the current conditions so that the proposed limitations will be accepted, but this will take a long time. The Supreme Court is still a unique structure, which effectively performs its functions. The direct and lifelong appointment of Justices may not seem democratic. Still, their experience and wisdom in decision-making, as well as their lack of political bias, ensure a just, democratic trial.
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America From Scratch. (2018). Should we elect our supreme court justices? [Video]. YouTube. Web.
Epps, D., & Sitaraman, G. (2019). How to save the Supreme Court? 129 Yale Law Journal, 148(2019), 148–206. Web.
Kearney, M. (2019). When to step down: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Supreme Court. Women Leading Change: Case Studies on Women, Gender, and Feminism, 4(1), 35–43. Web.