By Tyler Cooper, FTC senior researcher
Time and time again Justice Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court’s longest-serving liberal (27 years and counting), has publicly proclaimed support for ending life tenure at SCOTUS in favor of a sufficiently lengthy term of service, most recently during a sit-down with the New York Times this week.
[9/2/21 update: Not one week after Breyer’s latest comments were published, Reps. Ro Khanna and Don Beyer reintroduced legislation that would make an 18-year term limit the rule for future justices.]
“It would make my life easier,” said the 83-year-old Breyer when asked about term limits. In the same interview, the senior liberal justice also opined on his own tenure, speculating, “I don’t think I’m going to stay there [on the Supreme Court] till I die — hope not.”
While Justice Breyer apparently believe he still has plenty of time to retire of his own volition, before that decision is made permanently for him by his own mortality, it should be irrelevant.
This morbid and ongoing national discussion over whether the oldest liberal will retire under a Democratic administration, or die under Republican control, isn’t befitting of a modern democracy. This was also the case back when the discussion was over whether any of the aging conservative justices would hang up the robes before Trump left office. Yet it persists because the officials of our highest court are permitted by the other two branches to wield the judicial power less as public servants to a democracy and more as the philosopher-kings of Plato’s imagining.
Eighteen years atop the absolute apex of the judicial branch is plenty, to which Justice Breyer, Rep. Khanna, and all of us at Fix the Court can agree.