Other Opinion: Ease the frenzy by creating 18-year term limit for the Supreme Court
To amend the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the U.S. states.
It’s no easy task.
Or, as the Herald noted in a 2016 editorial upon the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, another option is to get five people that portray the beliefs of one political party appointed to the Supreme Court.
At that time, the Herald asked readers: “Which way would you choose?”
Why do political parties work so hard to appoint or block Supreme Court nominees? Because the left-right axis of the Supreme Court can tilt the political power of the nation for decades.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last week has again sparked the political frenzy to pick – or not pick – a justice before a presidential election. The last came in 2016, when Scalia died during Obama’s final months in office. Democrats rushed to fill the seat before the November election, countered by Republican protests. Today, it’s reversed – Republicans seek to fill Ginsburg’s spot before the Nov. 3 election and Democrats are incensed. Yes, it is extremely and disappointingly hypocritical, but welcome to American politics.
Should Republicans pick the next justice before the election? No. Nor should have Obama in 2016.
And this political frenzy, this gamesmanship and this hypocrisy are why the Herald – as in 2016 – speaks in favor of term limits for Supreme Court justices.
Here’s what we said about the Supreme Court following Scalia’s death:
“The justices make up a Supreme Court, not a Divine Council. Their power to rule on constitutionality is vital, and it’s an essential check on the other two branches of government. But it needs to be checked as well. Because in the end, we are all of us people, not gods.”
An 18-year term limit would be a solution. With nine Supreme Court justices, it would create a vacancy every two years, or twice during each presidential term. A party that holds national political dominance over a span could pack the court in its favor, but it would more realistically align with the current wishes of the nation’s voters.
At present, justices have lifetime terms that can outlast the nation’s interests at the time they were nominated and confirmed.
“Over time, (a term limit) would moderate the court’s power by making it more responsive – though not hyper-responsive, like the U.S. House – to the American electorate,” Herald editorial writer Tom Dennis wrote on the newspaper’s behalf in 2016.
Supreme Court judgeships are not intended to be political, and for the justices themselves, they are not. But for the major parties? Well, the ire, outrage and hypocrisy shown in 2016 and this week show just how political Supreme Court positions really are.
And since those important spots carry so much political weight and influence, terms should be limited to better match current desires of voters and to reduce the craziness that erupts upon the death of each justice.
An 18-year term limit would help achieve that.