Sunday, February 21, 2016

Limiting Supreme Court terms

An interesting proposal is being floated to limit Supreme Court terms to 18  years, with those terms being staggered so that one comes up every two years.

As much as I feel that thirty year veteran Justice, the late Antonin Scalia, was a great justice, this is a good idea.  I wish it would get some traction, even though I know that it is unlikely to.

The fact of the matter is that any one U.S. Supreme Court justice has an inordinate amount of power and, by extension, it causes the dead hand of the President who nominated them to live on well after it should not.  Scalia was nominated by the late President Reagan.  Long serving and highly infirm Justice Douglas, served for forty years and had been appointed by Franklin Roosevelt, only to go out under Gerald Ford.  

I'd also modify the proposal, were it me, to require a retirement age of age 70.  I know that's an unpopular idea and it would mean that no justice over age 52 could be appointed, but so be it.  Douglas is a good example of what can happen when very old justices continue to serve, but he's not the only one.  The current system simply requires too much gambling.


Linda said...

Interesting read....I agree with you although I'm not from the US.

Anonymous said...

The life expectancy of a person was between the ages of 45-50 at the time the current system of lifetime appointment for Supreme Court Justices was enacted. I believe Rubio stated this in the last debate.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

On Anon's post, there's a couple of older threads up here on life expectancy and the way we understand that is actually highly misunderstood. The original and maybe the best one is here:

Anyhow, contrary to widespread belief, people aren't living any longer than they ever did, they just don't die as young, and that's a significant difference. So even early on a justice could serve well into his advance years. Justice John Marshall, who is really responsible for the concept of Supreme Court review of the constitutionality of Congressional actions, lived to age 79 and was the fourth longest serving Justice in history, for example. And like Scalia, he remained in office until his death, at which time he'd been in his office for 34 years.

So it isn't really the case that people, particularly men, died at a much earlier age. Basically, if you weren't killed by an accident or by disease, your chances of living into old age were every bit as good as they are now. But what is the case is that the chances of dying by those means was much higher.

This, in turn, means that people behave differently now to some degree. If you thought that every year past age 30 might be your last, due to a nasty illness, or mean horse, or whatever, you very well might behave differently in regards to your life's goals. Additionally, as fewer people are taken out by disease, or accidents, etc. the chances of a person becoming incapacitated at some time in their life, particularly old age, is much higher than it once was.

That's the real flip side of old age that so many fail to appreciate. A long life is a blessing, but anyone who has had to deal with the ravages of old age knows that with each passing year past a certain point things are less certain than they once were. That we haven't had a Supreme Court justice with dementia yet is really amazing, for example.