Jul 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats introduce bill limiting Supreme Court terms amid calls for reform

The U.S. Supreme Court on the final day of its term on June 30 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images

A group of House Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday that would enact term limits for Supreme Court justices, but it is unlikely to go anywhere.

Why it matters: Democrats have sought to curb the Supreme Court's authority since the majority-conservative bench overturned Roe v. Wade, with many arguing that the court overreached in its decision to strike down federal protections for abortion.

  • 67% of Americans favor term limits for Supreme Court justices, according to a poll out this week from AP and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Details: The new bill would give the president the authority to appoint justices every two years in the first and third years after a presidential election. Each new justice would serve for 18 years before retiring from regular active service.

  • The justices appointed before the date of the bill's enactment would be moved to senior status; those who'd served the longest would retire first.
  • Under senior status, however, justices would still retain official duties and pay. If the number of justices decreases at any point for any reason, the justice who most recently moved to senior status would step in.

What they're saying: "Five of the six conservative justices on the bench were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, and they are now racing to impose their out-of-touch agenda on the American people, who do not want it," Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who co-introduced the bill, said in a statement.

  • "Term limits are a necessary step toward restoring balance to this radical, unrestrained majority on the court," said Johnson, who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.

Between the lines: Though Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is introducing the bill in the Senate, it's all but doomed given Democrats' difficulty in overcoming the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

Worth noting: President Biden's Supreme Court commission has shown strong interest in imposing terms limits, but Biden himself has not weighed in.

  • "Among the world’s democracies, at least 27 have term limits for their constitutional courts. And those that do not have term limits, such as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, typically impose age limits," the commission wrote in its final report.
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