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Reps. Khanna, Beyer, Lee, Tlaib Introduce Legislation To Set Supreme Court Term Limits, Appointments Schedule, Without Constitutional Amendment

Washington, DC – September 2, 2021 – In an effort to protect judicial independence and restore public trust, Reps. Ro Khanna (CA-17) and Don Beyer (VA-08) along with Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) reintroduced the Supreme Court Term Limits Act to fundamentally reframe the power of our nation’s highest court. The bill would establish 18-year term limits on any Supreme Court Justices approved after bill passage. After their 18-year terms, justices would then be allowed to continue their service on lower courts.

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.

“The high-stakes confirmation hearings that occur every time there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court undermine the reputation of our highest judicial body,” said Rep. Khanna. “There is broad support among the American people for reform and this bill would be a meaningful step towards standardizing and democratizing 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 Court’s recent actions overturning the CDC eviction moratorium, attacking voting rights and women's reproductive freedoms, and preventing the President from exercising his clear authority to determine refugee admission policies show how much partisan polarization has become the driving force behind the justices’ decisions. I have long supported reforming the Supreme Court to limit terms to end lifetime tenures, and our bill would achieve this and restore some balance to a heavily politicized Court.”

“Lifetime appointments for justices are resulting in a Supreme Court that is politicized and increasingly out of step with the American public,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “Terms limits will help us limit partisan influence over the appointment process and restore the public’s trust in the nation’s highest court. Congressman Ro Khanna and I will continue this fight with our colleagues.”

“Replacing life tenure at the Supreme Court with a more reasonable term of service is something large majorities on the left and right have come to agree on in recent years, and Rep. Khanna's bill is in an equitable, apolitical way to approach this proposal,” Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth said. “Like recent bids to livestream Supreme Court arguments and modernize the judicial ethics laws, the Khanna legislation would bring an overdue infusion of democracy to the most powerful, least accountable branch and insert guardrails that are perfectly consistent with Congress’ constitutional authority over the court’s structure and function. I want to thank Rep. Khanna not only for speaking out about the need to end the arbitrary, antediluvian method of appointing our justices but for also doing something about it."

Over the last 44 years, Republicans have held the presidency for 24 years and appointed 11 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 is the first bill to propose Supreme Court term limits as opposed to 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.

Original House cosponsors: Don Beyer (VA-08), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).

The bill is endorsed by Fix the Court.

The full text of the bill is available here.