Sep 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats propose 18-year term limits for Supreme Court justices

The flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose at the Supreme Court
The flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose at the Supreme Court. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

House Democrats are set to introduce a bill next week that would impose 18-year term limits on future Supreme Court justices, allowing a president to nominate two justices during each term in office.

The big picture: The bill, sponsored by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), seeks to depoliticize the process of placing new justices on the court — a fight that has taken on new light after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week.

  • Americans across the political spectrum support the idea of Supreme Court term limits, per SCOTUS Blog.

Worth noting: Under the bill, the term limits would not apply to justices who are already seated on the Supreme Court.

  • Those who do reach their term limit would be designated as "senior" justices and rotated to lower courts, but could be called back into service to temporarily fill an unexpected Supreme Court vacancy.
  • It also includes a provision that allows a nominated justice to take their seat if the Senate does not act on their nomination within 120 days — effectively preventing another Merrick Garland situation.

The other side: Some argue that this type of change is not possible without a constitutional amendment. The provision exempting current justices is meant to navigate that issue.

What they're saying: "It would save the country a lot of agony and help lower the temperature over fights for the court that go to the fault lines of cultural issues and is one of the primary things tearing at our social fabric," Khanna told Reuters.

Read the bill.

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