Opinion: We Need to Put a Term Limit on Supreme Court Justices


Cartoon by Taylor Polonsky

Aaron Waldman, Guest Writer

The Supreme Court has become dangerously reactionary. Every member is older than 45, each justice votes according to their party line, and every decision becomes controversial. The nine justices have incredible power to change American society and yet their life sentences assure that the members hold outdated views by the end of their tenures. Putting a term limit on the justices would assure that modern viewpoints and ideas may be introduced into our government more frequently.

Currently, many Supreme Court nominees are chosen for their relatively younger age. This ensures that they can serve on the court for a longer time. However, this also assures that they are still on the court with the same views decades later. The only way to change the current trend of having so many older people on the Supreme Court is to introduce a term limit.

A term limit could prevent young justices from serving too long, and it would promote having more educated adults on the Supreme Court, rather than just people who can serve for longer. 

Former history teacher Dr. Eytan Apter, who taught government, recognizes the need for improvement on the Supreme Court. 

“I do think there is an advantage to changing the trend of appointing 40 year olds as justices, just for the sake of getting the youngest person on the court so that they can serve for 40 years,” Apter said. “I don’t think that benefits us.”

Take Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for example. He was appointed on October 23, 1991, at age 43 and has now been serving on the Supreme Court for over 30 years. His long service has prevented new views from the Supreme Court.

Many people argue that we should pack the Supreme Court. However, packing the court would lead to an imbalance of power where the sitting president’s party would be heavily favored. This possibility is not right and goes against the system of checks and balances that our government is based on.

According to a poll done by Reuters and Ipsos, only 38% of Americans support packing the court. 42% of Americans oppose the idea. On the other hand, 63% of Americans support having an age limit or a term limit, while only 22% oppose the idea. This shows that there is common support for the measure as well.

Even prominent government officials are in support of a term limit for justices. A big supporter is Justice Stephen Breyer, who has served on the Supreme Court since 1994. The fact that even a court justice desires a term limit reveals how beneficial it would be for our government.  

The solution to prevent more reactionary justices is to have the justices serve only one term for 16 years. They could be appointed during the midterm elections, so the process would never interfere with the presidential elections. They would have enough time to get a lot done on the Supreme Court. However, it is not too much time, and the balance would benefit the citizens of the United States.