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Rs and Ds Support Temporary Expansion of Supreme Court to Facilitate Transition to Term Limits

New poll bodes well for Fix the Court term limits plan, which envisions potentially larger court

Republicans, Democrats and Independents support a temporary expansion in the number of Supreme Court justices to facilitate the transition from life tenure to prospective 18-year term limits, according to a new national poll released today.

The results bode well for Fix the Court’s term limits plan, which envisions a new, term-limited justice to be added to the court biennially via statute. Since the plan exempts the current nine from term limits, the number of active justices might for a time swell beyond nine.

Read the poll results here.

The question on adding justices stated: “Many legal scholars believe you can’t switch from the current system of lifetime appointments at the Supreme Court to 18-year term limits without a period of transition, during which more than nine justices might serve on the Court. Which do you prefer, the status quo of lifetime appointments, or potentially having more than nine justices serve for a period of time as we transition to term limits?”

Overall, 53% of the respondents prefer having more than nine justices for a time, with 25% supporting the status quo of lifetime appointments and 22% unsure. Breaking those responses down by party affiliation, Democrats were 65%-17%-18%, respectively; Republicans, 40%-36%-24% and Independents, 50%-16%-34%.

Taking out “not sure,” the breakdown is Democrats, 79%-21%; Republicans, 53%-47%; and Independents, 76%-24%.

“Term limits for the Supreme Court remains incredibly popular, and as policymakers consider how to move from the current system to one with term limits, it’s heartening to know that a potential temporary increase in the number of justices to facilitate the shift is also viewed favorably,” FTC executive director Gabe Roth said.

“Under our term limits plan, it’s not necessary for there to be more than nine, but any legitimate proposal should allow for the possibility, and this poll shows that Americans left and right are fine with that,” Roth added.

Like FTC-commissioned polls in 2018, 2019 and 2020, those surveyed were also asked a generic SCOTUS term limits question, i.e., if they support “restrictions on length of service for U.S. Supreme Court justices – for example, setting a retirement age or capping total years of service.”

Overall, 69% of respondents said yes, with 19% opposed and 12% unsure. Democrats were 77%-12%-11; Republicans, 57%-15%-28% and Independents, 64%-28%-8%.

Previous results for this question indicated 78% (2018), 77% (2019) and 78% (2020) support, though previous surveys did not include a “not sure” option. Of those who responded yea or nay (n=886) in this year’s poll, 78% said they support restricting SCOTUS length of service. FTC’s 2016 term limits poll yielded similar results.

The survey was conducted Feb. 25-28, 2021, by Global Strategy Group with 1,007 registered U.S. voters and has a margin of error of +/-3.1%.

Finally, respondents were asked if they prefer the current tenure regime, “which in recent times has meant more than 28-year [terms] on average,” or if they prefer “switching to a system where nine justices each serve a fixed term of 18 years.” Overall, 59% prefer 18-year terms, with 22% supporting lifetime appointments and 19% unsure. Breaking those responses down by party affiliation, Democrats were 62%-19%-19%; Republicans, 58%-26%-16%; and Independents, 49%-19%-33%.

Roth concluded: “The unfolding debate over SCOTUS term limits is reminiscent of the debate over the COVID relief package: both policies are popular with Democrats and Republicans nationwide, though not with the 50 Republicans in the Senate or the 211 in the House, who offer little but obstruction. So again it will be up to Democrats in Congress to advance an apolitical solution, which, in the case of term limits, would end the rancor of confirmations, the randomness of appointments and the superannuation of the justices.”

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