What’s Left: On Supreme Court Term Limits

The judicial branch was established as the politically uncharged branch of government, with its purpose being to check the executive and legislative branches by upholding and interpreting the constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court, our country’s highest court, has played an undeniably important role in shaping the country we know today, from desegregating our nation’s public schools in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, to the establishment of a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in 1973’s Roe v. Wade. Each of our experiences in this country, whether we were born citizens or came here to go to Colgate, has been influenced greatly by Supreme Court decisions.

But while the Court was designed to be a nonpartisan branch of government, its reality has become far from the original goal. Our highest court is not shielded from the dramatically increasing political polarization of our country. It is foolish of us as Americans to ignore how profoundly this reality impacts the Supreme Court. There are a multitude of interrelated reasons for why our country has become a place where our political opinions so acutely impact the spaces and people we surround ourselves with. But these reasons are beyond the scope of this article. What is pertinent to this topic is that political polarization is a stark reality and that our Supreme Court justices are citizens of this country with strong opinions, just like the rest of us. We no longer live in a culture where most of our political opinions are separated from our identities.

We must face the reality that our contemporary Supreme Court is more polarized and politically charged than the creators of lifetime appointments ever imagined possible. While it’s impossible for any court to be completely non- partisan, the level at which ours diverts from its purpose proves the necessity for change. Without term limits on our justices, every confirmation for a new justice becomes a congressional battle.

The randomness of when justices leave the Court—due to the nature of lifetime appointments—means that a presidential administration may have the opportunity to appoint no justices to the Court during their time in office, while others may appoint and have confirmed multiple new members to the Court. Given the inevitability of the Court’s political polarization, it is fundamentally unfair and undemocratic for this inconsistency to exist.

The United States is the only democracy on the planet without term limits on the justices of their highest court. While our country has done a lot of things differently than other democracies throughout our nearly 250-year history, we must be critical of systems established over two centuries ago, by and for a country that barely resembles what the United States looks like today. We as citizens who care about the fairness in our changing democracy must pressure our lawmakers to consider the importance of establishing term limits for the justices of our nation’s highest court.

Contact Kirby Goodman at [email protected].