House Democrats Propose Supreme Court Term Limits, Appointments Schedule, Without Constitutional Amendment
Washington, September 25, 2020
Amidst the latest Supreme Court fight, Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17) will introduce the Supreme Court Term Limits Act to fundamentally reframe the power of our nation’s highest court. Khanna’s bill would establish 18-year term limits on any Supreme Court Justices approved after his bill’s passage. After their 18-year terms, justices would then be allowed to continue their service on lower courts, as former Justices Souter and O’Connor currently do. Current justices would be exempt from the term limits. Going forward, the bill would then create a regular appointment process to allow every president to nominate a new justice to the Supreme Court during each odd year, guaranteeing each president the opportunity to nominate two justices per four-year term.
“We can’t face a national crisis every time a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court,” said Rep. Khanna. “No justice should feel the weight of an entire country on their shoulders. No president should be able to shift the ideology of our highest judicial body by mere chance. Most importantly, our country’s top constitutional questions shouldn’t be decided by a panel of jurists who are biding their time until a president of their choice is elected. It’s time to standardize and democratize the Supreme Court.”
“For many Americans, the Supreme Court is a distant, secretive, unelected body that can make drastic changes in their lives without any accountability,” said Rep. Beyer. “The dramatic politicization of the Court in recent years has greatly undermined the conception of the Court as a group of dispassionate, apolitical jurists, and made the argument for lifetime tenure increasingly obsolete. When I first ran for Congress in 2014, one of the core ideas in my platform was reforming the Supreme Court to limit terms to end lifetime tenures. Recent upheaval in the Court has only made it clear how much that reform is needed. Our bill would achieve this important advance, and restore a measure of balance, and I thank Rep. Khanna for his leadership on this important legislation.”
Over the last 44 years, Republicans have held the presidency for 24 years and appointed 15 justices. In contrast, Democrats have held the presidency for 20 years and appointed only 4 justices. Khanna’s legislation will eliminate the arbitrary nature of Supreme Court vacancies by creating a regular, fair process that doesn’t reshape the Court for decades at a time.
This will be the first time the notion of Supreme Court term limits has been proposed as a bill, rather than a constitutional amendment, meaning the legislation can pass with simple majorities in the House and Senate, rather than waiting through the long amendment process with the higher two-thirds vote threshold.
From Ezra Klein to Chief Justice Roberts himself, the notion of Supreme Court term limits is supported by both conservative and liberal legal scholars because it is fair, does not require amending the Constitution, and gives voters an opportunity to have input on the Court through their vote for president. It’s a realistic solution that will strengthen the Supreme Court and restore the public’s trust in the nation’s highest federal judicial body. Additional supporters include Yale Professor Bruce Ackerman, former White House Counsel Bob Bauer, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein.
“Lifetime appointments to the highest court in our land undermine our democratic process and erode progress in our nation,” said Rep. Kennedy III. “In recent days, Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have once again exploited the Supreme Court in their anti-democratic power grabs. If we believe in the promise of this nation and our march toward a more perfect union, we must enact term limits on our Supreme Court justices.”
"For the first time in U.S. history, statutory language has been introduced to accomplish what court-watchers have been saying for ages: on Supreme Court appointments, we must do better,” said Fix the Court Executive Director Gabe Roth. “A standard appointment process, where future justices serve for a reasonable amount of time, is that better way - and one that liberals and conservatives already agree on. Congress has through the years used its constitutional authority to reform the roles and responsibilities of our courts, so lawmakers are well within their rights to reconsider the role of our nation’s top jurists as a means to restore confidence in the high court and in the rule of law. I applaud Rep. Khanna for introducing this bill and hope to see a multitude of cosponsors in the coming days."
Original House cosponsors: Don Beyer (VA-08) and Joe Kennedy III (MA-04)
The bill is endorsed by Fix the Court.
The full text of the bill is available here and will be introduced in the United States House of Representatives on Tuesday September 29, 2020.