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In Iowa, Fix the Court Find Presidential Candidates and Voters Concerned with the Election's Impact on the Supreme Court

Salience of SCOTUS as major issue seen as on the rise as voters voice concerns with life tenure at high court

“The next President of the United States will probably have the opportunity to appoint anywhere from two to four Supreme Court justices. That is enormous power.”

That’s how presidential candidate Carly Fiorina responded to Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth in Des Moines Wednesday when he asked whether she saw the high court as a major election issue.

Last week Fix the Court traveled across the Hawkeye State to speak with White House hopefuls and dozens of voters from both parties about their views on the most powerful, least accountable part of our government – and especially their thoughts on the merits of term limits.

We attended seven candidate events:

  • On Jan. 19 in Fort Dodge, Bernie Sanders said he would appoint justices who would pledge to overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision and, responding to a voter question, said he doesn’t support congressional term limits because “in a sense you [already] have term limits. Every time your senator or member of the Home comes up, you can limit their terms by getting rid of them.” He did not articulate his views on ending life tenure for Supreme Court justices.
  • Later that day in Greenfield, we spoke with Rick Santorum, who said he opposed a constitutional amendment for term limits but hadn’t considered a legislative way to end the justices’ life tenure. Nevertheless, he told us, “We need to put constraints on courts. […] Otherwise, we are a government of an oligarchy that is completely removed from our society.”
  • That night at Iowa State University in Ames, Donald Trump was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Neither mentioned the Supreme Court, though Jim Handsaker of Story City, Iowa, told us after the rally he’s concerned about the aging justices. “You look at the health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and some other [justices],” he said, “and you wonder if they’re actually cognizant of working or if it’s just the underlings that are writing all the opinions.”
  • On Jan. 20 in Des Moines, we asked Carly Fiorina about Supreme Court term limits. She said she opposed them and insinuated the reason why was that her father served on the federal bench for 35 years.
  • That afternoon in Wall Lake, Mike Huckabee told us, “I absolutely support term limits for […] the courts. I don’t think anybody should have a job for life. Nobody, including Supreme Court judges.”
  • On Jan. 21 at Simpson College in Indianola, Hillary Clinton, like Trump before her, neither spoke about the Supreme Court nor allowed for questions. Jacob Lucy, a student from Des Moines, told us how he sees the court as a major election issue since “the justices who get appointed during the next President’s term are going to decide what our future looks like.”
  • That night in Atlantic, Ben Carson told the crowd, “We need to reevaluate how long [justices] serve because when we put lifetime limits in for them, the average age of death was 47. That has changed.” When we asked him about ending the court’s broadcast media ban, he said, “These people do things behind closed doors, and you don’t know who’s advocating for you. I would make it all extremely public and transparent because [doing so] educates the populace.”

According to multiple polls, two-thirds of Americans back term limits for the justices, and a number of candidates who were not in Iowa when Fix the Court was – including Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio – have indicated their support for ending life tenure at the high court.

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