Americans used to love the idea of term limits for Supreme Court justices. They still do, but they used to, too.
New polling from PSB on behalf of Fix the Court shows 77% of Americans favor restrictions on length of SCOTUS service, vs. 23% against. The survey of 1,100 adults was conducted May 15-18, 2020, and has a margin of error of 2.95%.
The only demographic in the survey for which support for term limits didn’t hit the 70% mark across gender, party ID and habitat (rural vs. urban vs. suburban) lines was for respondents 65 and older, though 68% were still supportive.
Quantitative meets qualitative
Last year Global Strategy Group conducted eight focus groups for FTC – two in New York, two in Washington, two in Philadelphia and two in Des Moines – to inquire as to the reasons why most Americans support ending life tenure at the Supreme Court.
Participants of all political perspectives said they were skeptical of the unchecked power that comes with lifetime service, and they needed almost no priming to say that life tenure is antithetical to a modern democracy.
This anecdotal evidence has now been backed up by last month’s quantitative survey, in which we asked respondents their reasons for supporting SCOTUS terms. Seventy percent of self-identifying Republicans, 72% of Democrats and 68% of Independents found the statement, “No one with a position as powerful as Supreme Court justice should serve for life,” either “somewhat” or “very” persuasive.
Americans of all stripes also said during the FTC/GSG focus groups they were concerned that long tenures could lead to justices becoming detached from the general public. This concern was reinforced by FTC/PSB survey data, in which 69% of Republicans, 78% of Democrats and 64% of Independents said they found the prompt, “Some Supreme Court justices serve for more than 30 years; term limits will ensure that the justices stay in touch with current values and are responsive to the needs of today’s society,” to be either “somewhat” or “very” persuasive.
FTC’s term limits proposal has attracted support across the political spectrum, among the chattering class and among FTC/GSG focus group participants, in part because our proposal has no partisan ideological bent, which has endeared it to Americans who generally believe in fairness and yearn for a more cooperative version of politics than they’ve seen in recent years.
It’s no surprise, then, that in the May FTC/PSB poll, 70% of Republicans, 73% of Democrats, and 68% of Independents found the prompt, “Vacancies on the Supreme Court often occur unexpectedly and sporadically; term limits will make it so that vacancies are routine, which will reduce the political gamesmanship around them,” either “somewhat” or “very” persuasive.