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Justices Should Pass the Torch Before Their Own Flames Burn Out

On the heels of a USA Today article on our aging Supreme Court justices, Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth released the following statement:

Richard Wolf’s article on the octogenarian justices underscores many of the problems associated with life tenure for such a powerful post as Supreme Court justice.

Allowing the individuals who decide where we can pray, whom we can marry and who has access to health care to serve for 30 or 35 years is more feudal than democratic by nature. Recent high court cases on police searches of smartphones and steaming video services demonstrate the inherit deficiencies of having top jurists who were born before color TV was invented.

That the justices game their retirements – by waiting to step down until a President with whom they agree ideologically is in the White House – only adds to our growing frustration with the third branch.

Fortunately, there are actions that can be taken to make the high court more accountable to the American people and more faithful to the vision of our founders. First, the next nominee could pledge to serve a discreet length of time and not stay on the bench long past his or her prime. Second, Congress – spurred on by presidential candidates like Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee and the majority of the public, which backs high court term limits – could define the justices’ length of service: the nine jurists can be federal judges for life but may only sit on the Supreme Court for a fixed term of 18 years.

Like many of us, the nine justices are loath to come to terms with their own mortality. But those given the responsibility to make decisions affecting millions of lives should also have the humility to know when to pass the torch – before their own flames burn out.

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