18 Year Supreme Court Term Proposal

Supreme Court Longevity An Issue, As Recent Justices Have Stayed Much Longer Than Average, Including Contested Nominee Clarence Thomas

In the midst of the controversy over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the reality of how long he might serve.

There has been a trend whereby recent Supreme Court Justices serve much longer than historically traditional.

Right now, contested Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed in 1991 despite strong testimony of Anita Hill, has served 27 years on the Court, and is already number 24 in longevity of service out of 113 members of the Court in American history. He will be number 17 in two years and number 13 in four years. In May 2028, he would break the all time record of 36 years and nearly 7 months of Justice William O. Douglas, and Thomas would be just about a month short of age 80, and can be seen as likely, if he stays healthy, to accomplish this goal.

If one just looks at the top fourth of all Supreme Court Justices in longevity, a total of 31 out of 113, all 24 years or more of service, we find the following recent Justices, all appointed since the 1950s, are on the list:

John Paul Stevens
William Brennan
William Rehnquist
Byron White
Anthony Kennedy
Antonin Scalia
Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Sandra Day O’Connor
Harry Blackmun
Stephen Breyer
Thurgood Marshall

In the earlier history of the Supreme Court, the average length of service was about 15 years by comparison.

That is why the idea, proposed by this author two days ago, that a future Supreme Court Justice be limited to an 18 year term, allows for turnover, and prevents dominance by an ideological minority for decades, as now is threatened by Brett Kavanaugh, or another extreme right wing appointment by Donald Trump.

The Argument For 18 Year Terms For Supreme Court Justices In The Future To Insure Constitutional Stability

The controversy over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is a time to consider modifying the Judiciary Act of 1789, and end lifetime terms, and change to a maximum of 18 years on the Court for any future Supreme Court Justice.

It would insure in the future that we would have two Supreme Court appointments in any Presidential term, with the limit insuring turnover, rather than locking in a one sided Supreme Court, which can distort constitutional law and interpretation in a detrimental fashion.

Right now, in 2018, we have the danger of locking in a five member right wing Court that could last for 20-30 years, and the Court should, ideally, be a balanced Court, with some liberals, some moderates, and some conservatives, which normally was the way it was most of our history, but now seems a distant dream.

While there is an argument for longer terms, based on specific Justices being considered significant and admired by many, it still makes sense that we have a maximum of 18 years on the Court, and that way, the likelihood of having Justices at advanced ages, in the late 70s and early 80s, is much less likely to occur.

And one must realize that since most Justices come in modern times from the Circuit Courts, it means the average Justice would have a long judicial career, and if coming from an executive or legislative branch background, rare but has occurred in the past, that a Justice’s total career in public service will have been a long one.