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Conservative Thinkers Renew Their Support for SCOTUS Term Limits

Fix the Court’s term limits proposal again getting buzz on the right

Term limits for Supreme Court justices is a popular reform among rank and file Republicans and Democrats, and leading thinkers on both sides of the aisle are noticing. Not only is this issue being debated in the 2020 primaries, but in recent op-eds on the political implications of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health, columnists in National Review and Washington Examiner are also arguing for ending life tenure at the high court.

On Nov. 24, political affairs reporter and columnist John Fund wrote in National Review: “It’s time to end the unseemly position that the anachronism of life tenure for Supreme Court justices has put the country in. It’s a good thing that modern medicine is extending the lives of everyone, including Supreme Court justices. But the time has come to remove the incentives that make justices serve until they drop dead or are gaga. It’s time to put term limits on the Supreme Court.”

He added: “Returning our courts to their proper place in our constitutional framework is a tall order, and not one to be solved by abandoning life tenure for Supreme Court justices. But the idea is a sensible step, enjoys support from both conservative and liberal legal scholars, and just might give Congress the opportunity to prove to the American people that it’s still capable of bipartisan action.”

Fund also endorsed our plan for 18-year terms. “The Fix the Court plan would preserve the Constitution’s guarantee of tenure during ‘good Behavior’ by having departing Supreme Court justices serve on one of the nation’s eleven appeals courts.”

Fund’s editorial has received significant attention from conservatives across the country. Mark Levin, host of the “Mark Levin Show’ and “Life, Liberty & Levin on Fox News,” took to Facebook and Twitter to support Fund’s views, writing “I’ve written in favor of term limits for Supreme Court justices in three of my books.” Levin worked in the Reagan administration and has been active in conservative politics ever since.

Writing in a similar vein to Fund, columnist and Fox News contributor Tiana Lowe wrote the following day in the Washington Examiner, “There is something clearly broken in a political culture where voters are told that abortion policy or gun rights are contingent on a single person’s health. Congress is supposed to write the rules protecting freedoms and life, with SCOTUS merely interpreting the law and the Constitution as written. Term limits wouldn’t fix decades of court politicization and incivility in campaigning, but it would ameliorate those problems somewhat.”

Fund and Lowe’s pieces in support of term limits came after a Federalist Society panel considering just such a proposal during the group’s annual lawyers convention earlier in the month. Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute argued in favor of 18-year term limits and fielded questions from fellow panelists and the audience during the Nov. 14 session.

Support among conservative thinkers is hardly surprising, given that SCOTUS term limits enjoys the support of wide majorities of Americans. A recent Marquette Law School poll found that 72% of Americans support term limits, with no significant difference between liberals and conservatives. That number mirrors a Fix the Court poll in June 2019, which found 77% overall support for term limits, including from 73% of Republicans.

Leaders in the Republican Party have supported term limits in the past. During the 2016 presidential primaries, Govs. Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee and current HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced support for Supreme Court term limits. Sens. Marco RubioRand Paul and Ted Cruz also expressed openness to such reform efforts.

Top Democrats, including former U.S. senators Harry Reid and Ted Kaufman and about half of the 2020 presidential field, have also endorsed ending life tenure on the Supreme Court.

Fix the Court has long advocated term limits for Supreme Court justices to lower the temperature of nominations and restore regularity to the process. The organization supports a legislative fix so that future justices would only serve for 18 years on the high court, after which they’d retire or rotate back to a lower court.

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