Strategy 1 Achieve Equality of Voice and Representation

18-Year Terms for Supreme Court Justices

Strategy 1
Achieve Equality of Voice and Representation

Recommendation 1.8

Establish, through federal legislation, eighteen-year terms for Supreme Court justices with appointments staggered such that one nomination comes up during each term of Congress. At the end of their term, justices will transition to an appeals court or, if they choose, to senior status for the remainder of their life tenure, which would allow them to determine how much time they spend hearing cases on an appeals court.

Read in the Report

The Problem

The framers intended Supreme Court justices to serve life terms, but, with increased lifespans, these unelected justices hold immense power for decades longer than the framers imagined.

In recent years, the Court has become increasingly polarized, and Americans’ trust in the Court has declined. Additionally, because the number of vacancies a president fills is determined by the luck of the draw, the Court has become yet another contentious part of partisan politics.

SOURCE: Pew Research Center

The Remedy

The remedy: abolish life terms. Eighteen-year term limits would make the Court less of a presidential campaign issue and would restore Americans’ faith in the Court as an independent arbiter of justice.

Federal legislators have the power to enact eighteen-year terms for Supreme Court justices. The Constitution does not explicitly establish the type of judicial work done during a life term nor does it prevent Congress from enacting term limits. Supreme Court justices could transition at the end of their terms to the lower courts with undiminished salary for the remainder of their careers. Justices would also have the option of transitioning to senior status. (In the current system, retired Supreme Court justices automatically transition to senior status.)

Enacting eighteen-year terms for Supreme Court justices would go a long way toward depoliticizing the appointment process, yet for this remedy to be truly effective it would need to be paired with regular appointments: one Supreme Court justice nominated during each term of Congress. With each president responsible for two nominations per term, the nomination process would become less partisan. More importantly, eighteen-year terms married to regular appointments would help move the Court toward a less partisan future and restore its legitimacy in the eyes of the American people.

Champion

Fix the Court is committed to working to implement this recommendation in order to help reinvent American democracy for the 21st century.

Fix the Court is a national nonpartisan organization that advocates for greater transparency and accountability in the federal courts, primarily in the U.S. Supreme Court, which in recent years has become the most powerful, least accountable part of our government. We believe that live broadcasts of oral arguments, stronger ethics and recusal rules, greater transparency about junkets and conflicts of interests, and an end to life tenure would bring the high court into the modern era of open government. 

See the full list of Our Common Purpose Champions.

In order to implement Recommendation 1.8 by 2026, the Commission proposes the following milestones to complete by year-end of:

2022

  • Establish timeline and method of implementation
  • Introduce legislation

2024

  • Legislation passed and signed into law