I’ve never liked the idea of term limits for members of Congress, because if a member outstays his or her welcome voters get the chance every two or six years to hire a replacement. But term limits for judges—not just Supreme Court justices—make a certain amount of sense when those judges are appointed. For all their clairvoyance, the Founders couldn’t possibly have anticipated the impact that longer life spans would have on lifetime judicial appointments. As Northwestern’s Steven Calabresi and James Lindgren have pointed out, between 1789 and 1970 the average tenure of a Supreme Court justice was about 15 years—and that timespan includes the 29-year service of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a Civil War veteran who didn’t vacate the bench until 1932, at age 90. Since 1970 the average tenure has expanded to about 26 years. By longevity if not by eminence, Holmses are a dime a dozen today. Until John Paul Stevens retired in 2010, fully one-third of the Supreme Court were appointees not merely of presidents who had since died, but of presidents who, before they died, lived longer than any others in history. (That would be Reagan and Ford, who departed this vale of tears at 93. The previous record-holder was John Adams, an 18th-century outlier who lived to 90.) Dead presidents shouldn’t have that much power.
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Friday, April 6, 2012
Term Limits for Judges?
At The New Republic, Timothy Noah comes out for judicial term limits: