Supreme Court Term Limits
An Initiative of the Our Common Purpose project
Our Common Purpose recommended 18-year term limits for U.S. Supreme Court justices to help “move the Court toward a less partisan future, restoring its legitimacy as an independent arbiter of justice.”
The Supreme Court holds immense power in our Constitutional system. However, as growing levels of partisan polarization and decreasing public trust have come to characterize the American political landscape, the Court has also become increasingly controversial, with Americans’ views of its legitimacy divided along ideological lines. One often-overlooked factor exacerbating these concerns is the fact that Justices today live far longer — and thus serve far longer — than the Framers are likely to have imagined. Life tenure, as operates today, has raised the stakes of each new Supreme Court nomination, leading to a wide range of undesirable outcomes.
Moving to 18-year terms for Supreme Court Justices could help realign the Court with the Founders’ vision and reduce the partisan contentiousness of the appointments process.
In 2021, the White House’s Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States examined this proposed reform and noted that it has substantial bipartisan support. However, that Commission also noted a lack of consensus as to whether term limits may be enacted by Congress by statute or whether a constitutional amendment is required. It also outlined numerous important design questions that would need to be resolved for any effort to enact term limits to be viable. For instance: how will a transition to term limits be handled? What will be the scope of justices’ post-term duties? The answers to these questions have outsize importance because they may impact whether a term limits statute would be constitutional.
The Working Group
Between June 2022 and March 2023, the Academy convened a working group of political scientists and legal scholars with views across the ideological spectrum to try to resolve these and other crucial questions.
Members of the working group:
- Akhil Reed Amar, Yale Law School
- Guy-Uriel Charles, Harvard Law School
- Seth Davis, U.C. Berkeley School of Law
- Daniel Epps, Washington University School of Law
- Caroline Fredrickson, Georgetown Law School; Brennan Center for Justice
- Charles Fried, Harvard Law School
- Amanda Hollis-Brusky, Pomona College
- Norm Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute; member of the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship
- Kermit Roosevelt III, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
- Maya Sen, Harvard Kennedy School
- Diane Wood, Circuit Court Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit; member of the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship