Law & the Courts

Democrats to Propose Bill Limiting Supreme Court Justice Terms to 18 Years

The flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose under the Portico at the top of the front steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., September 24, 2020. (Alex Brandon/Reuters)

House Democrats are planning to introduce a bill next week that would limit the terms of Supreme Court justices to 18 years instead of their current lifetime tenure, just as President Trump prepares to announce a nominee to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat.

The bill, the Supreme Court Term Limits and Regular Appointments Act, was spearheaded by lead sponsor Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, who is expected to introduce the bill next week, along with cosponsors Representatives Joe Kennedy III and Don Beyer.

“It would save the country a lot of agony and help lower the temperature over fights for the court that go to the fault lines of cultural issues and is one of the primary things tearing at our social fabric,” Khanna said in a statement.

He added in a tweet that, “Every president should have an equal chance to appoint justices. Our entire democratic system shouldn’t hinge on the shoulders of individual Supreme Court justices.”

The bill would also cap the number of justices a president could nominate to two per term. It would also not apply to current Supreme Court justices.

The Constitution states that justices “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” The Democratic legislation, details of which are expected to be revealed on Friday, would attempt to comply with the Constitution by relegating justices to lower courts after 18 years on the Supreme Court.

Ginsburg died last week on Friday at 87 after a battle with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Her death has upended the election season as Democrats prepare to oppose Trump’s nominee to take Ginsburg’s place, saying the president should refrain from nominating a new justice during an election year. The upcoming nominee would be Trump’s third after justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch were confirmed to the Court. The president has promised to name a woman, and Judge Amy Coney Barrett is considered the frontrunner to be tapped.

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