‘Cesspool of Corruption’: Dems Reintroduce Bill to Impose Supreme Court Term Limits

"Our Founding Fathers intended for lifetime appointments to ensure impartiality," said Rep. Ro Khanna. "The decision today demonstrates how justices have become partisan and out of step with the American public."

By Julia Conley | 30 June 2023
Common Dreams

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Condemning the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court as corrupt and “heavily politicized,” U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna and Don Beyer on Friday reintroduced legislation to impose term limits for the nine justices in order to “restore judicial independence.”

Hours after the court ruled that businesses can refuse services to LGBTQ+ people and struck down President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief program, Khanna (D-Calif.) said that the framers of the Constitution established lifetime appointments for justices on the nation’s highest court in order “to ensure impartiality,” but recent rulings by the six right-wing members of the panel’s supermajority have not held up that standard.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to block student debt relief will put many hardworking Americans at risk of default and will be a disaster for our economy,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “Our Founding Fathers intended for lifetime appointments to ensure impartiality. The decision today demonstrates how justices have become partisan and out of step with the American public. I’m proud to reintroduce the Supreme Court Term Limits and Regular Appointments Act to implement term limits to rebalance the court and stop extreme partisanship.”

The legislation would create an 18-year term limit for justices appointed after the law was enacted. Justices would be permitted to serve on lower courts after their term was up.

Beyer (D-Va.) said the time has come to impose term limits following numerous partisan decisions by the Supreme Court, including its overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, and revelations about undisclosed financial ties that right-wing Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch have had to Republican megadonors and operatives who have had business before the court.

“For many Americans, the Supreme Court is a distant, secretive, unelected body that can make drastic changes in their lives without any accountability,” said Beyer. “Recent partisan decisions by the Supreme Court that destroyed historic protections for reproductive rights, voting rights, and more have undermined public trust in the Court—even as inappropriate financial relationships between justices and conservative donors raised new questions about its integrity.”

Currently, said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), “six extremist, unelected activists” are doing “the bidding of billionaire Republican donors from the bench.”

“This illegitimate Supreme Court has become a cesspool of corruption and is in urgent need of reform,” she said. “It’s time to end lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court.”

A poll by Marist College in April found that 68% of Americans back term limits for Supreme Court justices while just 37% of respondents said they had confidence in the high court.

The judicial watchdog group Fix the Court endorsed Khanna and Beyer’s proposal, noting that from the nation’s founding until 1970, Supreme Court justices served 15 years on average.

“That number has nearly doubled in the last few decades, as the power the court has abrogated to itself has also increased exponentially,” said the group.

The current system has allowed Supreme Court justices to “possess unchecked power for life,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court. “Luckily, there’s a popular, apolitical way to fix this: by requiring future justices to take ‘senior status’ after 18 years, at which point they’d fill in at SCOTUS when needed, rotate down to a lower court, or retire.”

“This idea forms the basis of Rep. Khanna’s bill,” he said, “and I’m pleased to support his work to establish fundamental guardrails for the most powerful, least accountable part of our government.”

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