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Term Limits Update: L.A. Times Backs Ending Life Tenure, and Yes, It’s Constitutional

The Los Angeles Times editorial board endorses term limits
As the debate around proposed court reform and 2020 hopefuls rages on, the LA Times published a notable editorial titled, “Court-packing isn’t the way to depoliticize the Supreme Court.” According to the editorial, limiting justices to 18 years “[…] would preserve their independence while reducing the likelihood that they would delay their retirement for political reasons, perhaps past the point of physical or mental impairment. Fixed terms would have the additional advantage, proponents say, of lowering the political stakes of any single appointment to the court. It’s an idea worth studying.”

Of course, Fix the Court agrees.

Are term limits constitutional? Yes!
In case you were wondering, instituting term limits via legislation is indeed constitutional. Tyler Cooper, the senior researcher at Fix the Court, penned an op-ed in Bloomberg Law last week laying out the constitutional argument for term limits legislation (along with some flaws in other proposals you might have heard about).

 “The founders knowingly circumscribed only minimal guidance for the third branch, allowing it to be adjusted to fit the needs of the nation (cf., initially omitting judicial review). A time when the high court’s legitimacy is questioned, as it is now, is the time to make an adjustment.

Nine justices, appointed by the president, who remain federal jurists after a statutorily fixed term, and whose power is limited by that term, seems to be a solution that checks all the boxes—including the constitutional one.”

Voters crave systemic reform
The Atlantic’s David Graham argues systemic reform is exactly what America needs and what voters crave heading into the 2020 elections. While pointing out the flaws of specific court reform proposals that have been floated, David states that term limits for SCOTUS justices has become “a popular cause in both parties.”

‘A Better Way to Fix the Supreme Court’
Responding to proposals to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court, The New Republic’s Matt Ford argues there are better reform options on the table. Specifically, Matt highlights 18-year term limits as a better fix for the court that would actually bolster its credibility as an independent and nonpartisan institution. In addition to noting that six in 10 Americans, as well as SCOTUS Justice Stephen Breyer, support introducing term limits for justices, he writes:

“[…] judicial independence could be maintained by keeping life tenure for federal judges in the lower courts while ending it for the Supreme Court. When a justice’s term elapses, they would automatically return to their old post unless they choose to retire altogether. The chief justice would be automatically entitled to a seat in the circuit of their choice when their term ends if they didn’t already have one.”

If that sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve read about a similar proposal before — the one Fix the Court supports.

The court’s “virus of illegitimacy”
Though proposed solutions to reform the Supreme Court vary, the fact that our system has become too partisan and is losing credibility among the American people is widely agreed upon. Last week, Radio Atlantic addressed the problem of partisanship in the Supreme Court, highlighting two upcoming decisions that could have major impacts on America:

“One will determine whether a citizenship question will appear on the 2020 census. The other asks whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional.

With these decisions imminent, that same question about partisanship in nonpartisan institutions hangs over the court itself. Still wounded by Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle, the nation’s highest court has a ‘virus of illegitimacy.’”

Law professor Alan Brownstein and Pulitzer Prize winner Linda Greenhouse also ruminated recently on the issue of an extremely partisan court and waning legitimacy in The Hill and the New York Times, respectively.

Stay tuned for additional updates from Fix the Court and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or if you’re working on a story related to court reform.

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