WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an effort to restore legitimacy and independence to the nation’s highest court, Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04) introduced the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization (TERM) Act. The legislation would establish term limits for Supreme Court justices while preserving constitutional protections for judicial independence in decision making. Under the TERM Act, a new justice would take the bench every two years and spend 18 years in active service.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) is introducing the legislation in the U.S. Senate.
“This Supreme Court is increasingly facing a legitimacy crisis,” said Johnson, Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. “Five of the six conservative justices on the bench were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, and they are now racing to impose their out-of-touch agenda on the American people, who do not want it. Term limits are a necessary step toward restoring balance to this radical, unrestrained majority on the court. I am pleased to have the support of Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler, and Subcommittee Chairs Cicilline, Cohen, and Jackson Lee, and Rep. Bass, along with Rep. Khanna, who has been a champion of this issue.”
“With all the harmful and out-of-touch rulings from the Supreme Court this last year, legislation creating 18-year terms for justices is essential,” said Chairman Jerrold Nadler. “Otherwise, we will be left with backwards-looking majority for a generation or more. Instead, under this bill, each President would be entitled to appoint two justices. We would begin to see a Court that better represents this nation and that better reflects the public whose rights it is responsible for protecting.”
“Instituting term limits for Supreme Court Justices will help rebalance the bench and restore the public’s trust in our nation’s highest court.,” said Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. “We must address the crisis currently facing the Court in terms of its legitimacy and the public’s confidence in it. This legislation is an important step to restoring the Court’s important role in our constitutional system.”
The Supreme Court TERM Act would:
- Establish terms of 18 years in regular active service for Supreme Court justices, after which justices who retain the office will assume senior status;
- Establish regular appointments of Supreme Court justices in the first and third years following a presidential election as the sole means of Supreme Court appointments;
- Require current justices to assume senior status in order of length of service on the Court as regularly appointed justices receive their commissions;
- Preserve life tenure by ensuring that senior justices retired from regular active service continue to hold the office of Supreme Court justice, including official duties and compensation; and
- Require the Supreme Court justice who most recently assumed senior status to fill in on the Court if the number of justices in regular active service falls below nine.
America is alone among modern constitutional democracies in allowing its high-court justices to serve for decades without term or age limits, resulting in some Presidents appointing no justices and others appointing as much as a third of the Court. Regularizing appointments every two years will ensure a Supreme Court that is more representative of the nation, reflecting the choices of recently elected Presidents and Senators. Term limits for Supreme Court justices are an essential tool to restoring a constitutional balance to the three branches of the federal government.
The Supreme Court TERM Act would build on the existing retirement system for Article III judges, which the Court has repeatedly upheld as constitutional. The bill would also preserve judicial independence by ensuring that Supreme Court justices who assume senior status remain fully compensated members of the federal judiciary for life, capable of exercising official duties on and off the bench for as long as they choose.
Co-sponsors: Reps. Jerrold Nadler (NY), David Cicilline (RI), Shelia Jackson Lee (TX), Steve Cohen (TN) Karen Bass (CA) and Ro Khanna (CA).
Read the bill HERE.
As Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, Johnson has worked to address the ongoing crisis of confidence Americans have in the Judiciary. His slate of court reform bills, include: The Judiciary Act (HR 2584), The Supreme Court Ethics Act (HR 4766), The Judiciary Accountability Act (HR 4827), The District Court Judgeships Act (HR 4886), The Open Courts Act (HR 5844), The Access To Justice Act (HR 7160), 21st Century Courts Act (HR 7426), Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal & Transparency Act (SCERT) (HR7647).