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Monday, October 23, 2023

Sheldon Whitehouse proposes Supreme Court term limits with 'long shot' bill

Throwing a "Hail Mary" against corruption on the Court

Alex Henderson

Although Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the United States' last eight presidential elections, only one-third of the U.S. Supreme Court consists of Democratic appointees. Six of the nine justices were appointed by GOP presidents, including former President Donald Trump's three appointees: Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The High Court's 6-3 Republican majority has frustrated Democrats by doing everything from overturning Roe v. Wade after 49 years to outlawing the use of affirmative action in college admissions. Democrats, in response, have made a variety of proposals, which include increasing the number of justices or "packing" the Court and imposing Supreme Court term limits.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Bloomberg News' Suzanne Monyak reports, is pushing a bill that, if passed, would require term limits for new Supreme Court appointees. But the operative word is "if."

The bill, according to Monyak, is a "long shot." Democrats have a small majority in the U.S. Senate, while Republicans have a narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. And the bill, Monyak notes, is "unlikely to gain traction" in the Senate.

"Whitehouse's bill also wouldn't move in the Republican-controlled House," Monyak reports in an article published on October 19. "The proposed legislation would permit presidents to appoint a Supreme Court justice every two years, but allow only the nine most recently appointed justices — or those appointed in the last 18 years — to hear cases from the federal appeals courts, which compromise the bulk of the High Court's docket."

Monyak adds, "Justices appointed earlier would be limited to hearing cases over which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, such as disputes between states. They could also serve as alternates for appellate jurisdiction cases if one of the nine more recent justices must recuse from a case or is otherwise unavailable. The bill wouldn't take effect until the next presidential term after it became law."

Some countries, including Uruguay, have terms limits for supreme court justices. But in others, including the U.S., justices enjoy lifetime appointments.

Monyak observes, "The new proposal is similar to legislation Whitehouse proposed last year, which also imposed 18-year term limits on justices, but uses a different mechanism: by forcing them to take senior status, or a less active role on the Court, after 18 years. That bill wasn't taken up by the Judiciary Committee. The latest version would preserve life tenure for Supreme Court justices by allowing them to continue to hear original jurisdiction cases and exercise other powers after 18 years, according to a fact sheet provided by Whitehouse's office."