May 22, 2009
Playing Musical Chairs Because SCOTUS Life Tenure is Just Too Damn Long
How can we regain the benefits of judicial independence and regular rotation on SCOTUS? In Supreme Court Justices Have It Too Good, Jack Balkin (Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Yale LS) suggests "a good rule of thumb would be that a president should be able to appoint a new justice every two years." Two snips:
[The] regular rotation of justices in office serves [a] valuable purpose: it gives presidents the opportunity to staff the courts with jurists who reflect the constitutional values of a changing political world. The supreme court thus reflects – and should reflect – a diversity of views from jurists appointed at different points in time.
In an earlier era of shorter life expectancies, and a less powerful institution, we had the best of both worlds: justices enjoyed life tenure and presidents had fairly regular opportunities to pick new justices. This has changed dramatically in recent years.
According to Balkin, a constitutional amendment would not be necessary -- one wonders what justices Scalia and Thomas would have to say about that -- and plenty of work would be available to keep senior justices busy. [JH]
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