Alexander Hamilton called the United States Supreme Court the least dangerous, and the weakest, of the three branches of the U.S. government. This is not to discredit the importance of the court, but serves as a reflection of the court’s function: to stand for the will of all American people as expressed in the Constitution. This differs from the executive and legislative branches, which the Supreme Court is meant to keep in check, as these branches are intended to have power over the force and will of their policies, while the high court exerts only judgment.
This is not to say that the Supreme Court has always existed as an all-knowing, unbiased entity in American politics, however, over recent years it seems to have become more and more politically biased. There is no better example of this than our current Supreme Court justices; the court sits at a right-leaning majority of 6-3, and three of these six Republican appointees were nominated by the Trump administration.
Political parties put justices on the court that they believe will favor their own policies and legislations, and this directly contradicts the constitutional intent of the Supreme Court, that being to function in absence of political pressure. The solution? Term limits for Supreme Court justices.
The fact of the matter is, people are living a lot longer in 2020 than they were in 1787 when the Constitution was ratified. Where life expectancy has increased, so has the number of years that a justice can sit on the Supreme Court. The ability of an appointed judge to sit on the court for 50-plus years greatly affects the appointment of justices, making it a way to extend political power in wake of a new administration.
Sabeel Rahman remarks on how dangerous this truly is in an article for The Guardian: “courts today are a threat to democracy because of how they have been weaponized to skew political power.” We need to abolish this obstruction of power by amending the construction of our Supreme Court system in the Constitution.
While such an alteration to the American government seems impossible, Fix the Court lays out the facts as to why term limits are the solution for, as they call it, a Supreme Court that is “polarized along partisan lines in a way that mirrors other broken political institutions.” Fix the Court, a nonpartisan organization, proposes 18-year term limits for Supreme Court justices, saying this would “restore limits to the most powerful, least accountable branch of American government.”
Fix the Court’s movement is the first Supreme Court Term Limits Act to be backed by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), a U.S. agency whose mission is the enforcement of civil U.S. law and protection of consumers. This goes to show that the push for a Supreme Court amendment is not small-scale, but rather it’s a topic that has been discussed for a while now and it’s time to make it happen.
In a piece for Center for American Progress, Maggie Jo Buchanan explains how pushes for Supreme Court term limits are gaining momentum, and an 18-year term is most commonly proposed. 18-year term limits would result in a new Supreme Court vacancy every two years, so each presidential term would bring two new justices; this would help to ensure that justices are reflecting the general public. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has also supported 18-year terms, saying they allow adequate time for justices to learn the job and develop jurisprudence.
If the past four years have shown us anything, it is that our existing checks and balances are not enough. While amendments to the constitution may seem drastic in the modern day, it is important to remember that our constitution was written with the intention of being amended. It is through these amendments and changes that some of our most powerful rights were born, i.e. The Bill of Rights.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg should not bring half of the nation terror, and the Supreme Court should not be the battleground for whatever current standoff exists in our political landscape. The court should stand to reflect the stance and protection of the American people, not affiliation with a political party. Term limits for justices is the way for the American people to regain representation, and for our nation to regain unity.