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Term Limits for the Supreme Court

As Lee Gesmer observes at MassLawBlog.Com, when the framers of the Constitution gave Supreme Court judges life tenure, the average life expectancy was 50 years. The framers never anticipated that justices would sit as long as they do today. Gesmer's observation is drawn from an article in the Cornell Law alumni magazine, "Reforming the Court: How Long is Too Long," by Cornell Law professor Roger C. Cramton. The article, in turn, is based on the book Cramton co-authored with Duke Law professor Paul Carrington, Reforming the Court: Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices.

Gesmer recounts several interesting facts taken from the article:

  • Between 1970 and today the average length of service on the Supreme Court went from 15 to 26 years.
  • During that time, the average retirement age for a Supreme Court justice rose from 68 to 79.
  • With a life expectancy of another 30 years, John Roberts could still be chief justice in 2037 and beyond.
  • Before the recent vacancies created by the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist and the retirement of Justice O’Connor, the court’s membership had been unchanged for 11 years.

The book and article propose term limits for Supreme Court justices of 18 years. After a justice's term expires, he or she could keep busy riding the federal circuits. To Gesmer, this sounds like a good idea: "I agree that Supreme Court Justices should not spend 30 or 40 years, into their 80s (and with modern medical technology, maybe their 90s or longer, who knows?), in such a position of power and influence." Is a constitutional amendment to this effect likely? Don't hold your breath, says Gesmer.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 20, 2007 at 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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