House Democrats propose Supreme Court term limits, appointments schedule

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A House Democratic effort to fundamentally reframe the power of the Supreme Court is about to make its way into the public debate.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA-17) is introducing the Supreme Court Term Limits Act to establish 18-year term limits on Supreme Court justices approved after his bill’s passage, and establish 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,” Khanna said. “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. Don Beyer (D-VA-08). “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 is the first time the effort establishing Supreme Court term limits 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, 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.

Additional supporters include Yale Professor Bruce Ackerman, former White House Counsel Bob Bauer, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein.


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