Supreme Court

18-Year Terms for Justices?


Dozens of academics from both sides of the political spectrum are questioning whether U.S. Supreme Court justices should have life tenure.

A popular proposal is for a constitutional amendment to give justices 18-year terms, allowing presidents to appoint a new justice every two years, the New York Times reports. Another proposal seeks to bypass the need for constitutional change with a law that moves justices into senior status after 18 years of service, with the requirement that they hear cases only when there is a vacancy.

The debate is fueled in part by statistics showing the average number of years that justices hold on to the job has more than doubled. Between 1789 and 1970, justices served an average of just under 15 years. Since 1970, the average is more than 26 years, according to law professors Steven Calabresi and James Lindgren of Northwestern University Law School.

Despite the increasing debate, change is unlikely to come any time soon. “This will probably have to percolate for a couple of decades,” said Lindgren, “before people realize what a good idea it is.”

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