Lifetime Appointment of the U.S. Supreme Courts System
In the United States, the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court is among the most decisions a president can ever make. This is because inline with the U.S. Constitution, justices serving at the Supreme Court are allowed to serve a lifetime and are only separated from office if they retire, resign, or are removed from office. This aspect makes the U.S. democracy distinct from other democracies that strict term limits or mandatory retirement ages for high court judges. For instance, in the United Kingdom, justices undergo mandatory retirement at 70 years, as do judges in Australia High courts. Most judges in the United States history retire prior, but a few died while in office, including Justice Ruth Ginsburg, who recently died in September 2020 after serving at the Supreme Court for 27 years (Kearney, 2019). In 1787, by the time the U.S. constitution was ratified, the average life expectancy for white males was 38 years; today, the life expectancy in the U.S. stands at 79 years. This means that the average justice serves the courts for 28 years. There is an argument that the framers never intended justices to serve as long as they do now since life expectancy was considerably shorter at the time of the drafting of the Constitution. This essay points out the pros and cons of lifetime appointment of judges and asserts that the tenure of Supreme Court Justices should have strict age limits rather than lifetime appointment.
Pros of Lifetime Appointment of Judges
Permanency in Office Contributes to independence and Firmness of Supreme Courts.
The essence of guaranteeing justices a position on the benches for a lifetime or until they retire is to guard the courts against fighting partisan battles. The Supreme Court represents the highest Court in the entire U.S. justice system, making it susceptible to external influences hence preventing it from functioning fairly and independently. The Supreme Court is a point of reference against the president’s office as well as congress. Lifetime appointment is deemed helpful as it is intended to ensure that the corridors of justice are insulated against political pressure and they serve genuinely autonomous of government arms. This way, judges are protected from being sacked if they make decisions that are unpopular. In theory, lifetime appointment allows justices to concentrate on the law enforcement rather than politics. Additionally, while a president might nominate an individual to the position of justice because they view them as an ideological or political ally, they cannot be recalled even if political alignment or ideologies change upon getting to the bench. Noteworthy, there is data to suggest that as they age, ideologies of many justices drift leftward. This shows that article III of the Constitution is timely as it prevents wrangles that can arise from having justices that are unbiased or with personal interest in Congress, the Public, or the elected president. According to Alexander Hamilton, who wrote in Federalists No.78, the lack of limits in terms for federal justices “is the best expedient which can be devised in government to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws” (Black, & Owens 2016).
Life Time Appointment of Justices Protects Courts’ Legitimacy
In this case, legitimacy is the court’s ability to resolve disagreements using ways that are acceptable by the citizens even when they do not like the decision. Critiques of the ideology of having a term limit maintain that having a lifetime appointment policy is viable as it insulates judges from political pressure hence protecting the Court’s legitimacy (McMillion, 2017). Worth noting, if citizens do not view Courts as legitimate, they are less likely to trust and follow its opinion. On the other hand, having term limits to justices’ tenure for 18 years would only cushion judges from politics from a given amount of time hence tarnishing the Court’s legitimacy.
Cons of Lifetime Appointment of Federal Justices
Lifetime Appointment is a Barrier to Combating Partisan Imbalance in the Courts System
As is, there is no political balance when it comes to giving each president equal nominations of justices through their terms in office. To date, presidential appointments are unevenly distributed between Republican presidents and Democrats. Of the past 18 justices, only four (4) were adopted by democrats, although less than 50% of presidents in the last 50 years were republicans. Worth noting, ideally, about 50% of justices should have been appointed by Democratic presidents and 50% by republican presidents to reflect the majority of the population’s political ideologies at the time of the vacancy. Lifetime appointment of judges does not solve the imbalance as there is no stipulated time when a judge should serve. If there was a term limit, it would solve the imbalance by limiting presidents’ appointments to two per term. This would allow future democratic presidents to appoint more justices to the Supreme Court than they have had thus far.
Life Time Appointment Exacerbates Divisiveness Following the Confirmation Process
Allowing federal justices to serve a lifetime reinforces the division which follows the process of appointing these individuals. Although Justice Scalia was confirmed in 1986 98-0, very few Democrats would agree with him. Notably, since then, no justice has been confirmed unanimously. Instead, nowadays, justices are being confirmed with narrow margins at high rates. Moreover, votes are now aligned with political party lines; for instance, Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch were confirmed with 50-48 and 54-45 votes respectively. It is imperative to note that augmented partisanship of the process paints judges as mere political figures rather than unbiased interpreters of the Constitution. In turn, this affects the citizens’ viewpoint towards the courts and the entire justice system. If there were a law to limit the age of service for justices, it would balance the number of judges nominated by each president, thus helping the confirmation process become less partisan.
The issue of nomination of Supreme Courts’ Justice by the present elect in the United States is an important decision to the state and the citizens. This is because, in line with their Constitution, federal judges are permitted to serve a life time and are allowed to leave office only if thy resign, retire or are impeached. I maintain the position that there is need to put strict age limits that restrict justices to serve until they a particular age. The first reason for supporting this notion is that incorporating age limits would solve the imbalance by limiting presidents’ appointments to two per term. This follows the fact that there is no political balance when it comes to giving each president equal nominations of justices through their terms in office. Additionally, if there was a law to limit the age of service for justices, it would balance the number of justices nominated by each president, thus helping the confirmation process become less partisan. The division is evidenced by the narrow margins experienced during the confirmations of justices in the appointment and confirmation process. There is a need to cross-examine how viable article III of the Constitution and if need be, amendment in line with the legal procedures.
Black, R. C., & Owens, R. J. (2016). Courting the president: how circuit court judges alter their behavior for promotion to the Supreme Court. American Journal of Political Science, 60(1), 30-43.
Kearney, M. (2019). When to Step Down: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Supreme Court. Women Leading Change: Case Studies on Women, Gender, and Feminism, 4(1).
McMillion, B. J. (2017). Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee. Congressional Research Service.