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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Do away with life-long appointments, Supreme Court justice should have limited term

    Justice John Marshall was the longest serving chief justice of the United States, serving from 1801 to 1835. Thirty-four years may be a similar amount of time to the years spent in an average career, but the ramifications of the decisions of the Supreme Court are far beyond those of an average career. It is for this reason that we should do away with life-long appointments in the Supreme Court.

    This idea has been circulating for several years, but with the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, the argument against lifetime appointments came to the forefront of American political dialogue once again. Scalia had an impressive background of education and employment before his appointment to the Supreme Court and stood firm in his conservative values for the duration of his term. He was one of four justices to vote against same-sex marriage in the court’s 2015 ruling. His unwillingness to change frustrated many Americans.

    Lifetime appointments are implicitly promised to justices in Article III of the Constitution through the statement that justices “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” No numerical value is attached to this promise, making justices’ terms essentially as long as they would like to serve.

    The judicial branch is the only branch of our government that does not have a term limit. This is a problem that manifests itself in the stagnation of political views and the limitations of old age.

    Scalia was on the bench for 30 years. In that time, more than 20 countries legalized same-sex marriage. In that time, the United States went through the cold war and competed with the Soviet Union in a nuclear arms race. In that time, war broke out in the Middle East. We now face terrorism and a refugee crisis. That is hardly a history to be defined by the decisions of justices unwilling to budge their political views.

    American’s political values are constantly changing and the way justices interpret the Constitution should change with that movement. When justices stay on the bench for decades, the Supreme Court quickly falls behind the views of the country and the people they are supposed to represent.

    One often ignored issue with lifetime appointments is age. A justice who lives until they’re 100 years old would be able to continue to serve on the court if they chose. All justices were undeniably sharp in their primes, but we should not deny that at a certain age, the justices will no longer be as capable of making the hard decisions demanded of them every single day.

    The constitutional amendment process exists for a reason and, although it’s unlikely we would see this change happen soon, it seems necessary to limit the amount of time justices are able to serve.

    Justices should have a term limit or a suggested retirement age to keep political ideology up to date and to continue getting fresh ideas into the Supreme Court so they can help shape the future of our country.

    Follow Nicole Rochon on Twitter.

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