Free Essay. Why Supreme Court Justices Should Not Be on the Bench Forever Until Death

Published: 2023-02-21
Free Essay. Why Supreme Court Justices Should Not Be on the Bench Forever Until Death
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  United States Court system Judicial system Ethical dilemma Social issue
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1159 words
10 min read

There have been recent calls to make amendments to the constitution regarding the life term of Supreme Court Judges. Unlike any other country, US Supreme Court Justice is a position that one holds for life. The constitution states that the judge will hold the position with the only condition of good behavior (Greenhouse, 2012). It is not stipulated how long the judges serve in the system, and the life term is encouraged with good reason. They serve for an unstipulated amount of time to allow them to focus solely on their job without the distractions related to losing their position. However, life expectancy had increased in recent years compared to the earlier days when the law was formulated. Supreme Court Justices now serve for more than 30 years as opposed to the 10 to 15 years in the past (Roosevelt & Vassilas, 2019). Among many other reasons, there is a lack of fresh ideas in the justice system that is now plagued with rigidity in the interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court Justices should not be on the bench forever until death to avoid redundancy, complacency, and partisanship.

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The Supreme Court of the United States, established in 1789, has the mandate to interpret the constitution and act as the ultimate court of appeal (Greenhouse, 2012). It is charged with discerning the relationship among states, the relationship between the nation and the states, and the relationship between the citizens and the government. Its function is to act when there are cases of treaties, laws, or constitution that arise. The president appoints the Supreme Court Judges and they have to get the approval of congress. There are nine members of the Supreme Court, but the number has been subject to change over the years. It comprised six judges between the years 1789 to 1807 where after a there was an additional judge (Greenhouse, 2012). Between 1837 to 1863, the number grew to a total of 10 judges of the Supreme Court (Greenhouse, 2012).

The number of Supreme Court Justices in most times been subject to the manipulation of politics. For example, 1866 congress used attrition to reduce the number of justices to 7 to prevent President Andrew Jackson, who was later impeached by the House of Representatives and later acquitted by the senate, from appointing a new Supreme Court Justice (Greenhouse, 2012). Their number grew to 8 and then 9 after the president left the office and new legislation was adopted in 1869 (Greenhouse, 2012). President Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempt to appoint new Supreme Court Justices to replace the justices over the age of 70 was rejected by congress.

The President, according to the constitution, appoints a Supreme Court Justice through the advice of the senate when there is a vacant seat. The appointee is confirmed through a majority vote by the senate judiciary committee (Roosevelt & Vassilas, 2019). The members of the Supreme Court Justice serve life terms, but they can be impeached by the House of Representatives and the Senate (Greenhouse, 2012). Only one Supreme Court Justice has ever been impeached, though unsuccessful, Abe Fortas later resigned due to unrelated alleged financial improprieties.

The Supreme Court determines the number of cases it can review during its term that runs from October through June. The number of certiorari requests received by the Supreme Court has increased since 1946 which reflects on the population growth in the country (Greenhouse, 2012). Many citizens have a firm belief in the government aided by litigious culture in America. The number of certiorari requests, however, has been far greater than the cases decided by the Supreme Court where the judges have opted to pick particular cases per salient issue area. Four judges are required to approve the certiorari requests, but the chief Justice can decide which ones to pick with the assistance of the associate judges. The case filed under review is delivered to the Supreme Court offices once the decision has been made, and they schedule oral arguments. The court then has to decide on the manner to respond to the cases based on their interpretation of the constitution through a vote. Their verdict on a case is thereby used as a doctrine that controls the constitution and used by the lower courts (Greenhouse, 2012). The Supreme Court also exercises judicial review where it can oppose unconstitutional acts made by congress or the president.


The question now has been why the judges spend life-term appointments unlike any other democracy in the world. The justices spend over 30 years in office which is increasingly becoming contentious where proposals have been made to have a 10 to the 18-year limit (Roosevelt & Vassilas, 2019). The first reason to reconsider placing a time limit is due to partisanship. Justices serve for life unless they choose to retire. Since they were appointed through partisan support, the justices are likely to stay in office until such a time when there is a suitable replacement that shares the same views. Many of the judges opt to stay in office till death with Justice Antonin Scalia who died in 2017 since his appointment in 1986 (Roosevelt & Vassilas, 2019). It brings the second reason which is predictable terms would mean fair play where unpredictable deaths would not lead to unfair one-sided appointments.

Justices should be changed on a regular basis to allow fresh ideas into the justice system. long-serving justices often lose touch with the outside world and attitudes of complacency occur often. The court decisions would be more responsive rather than the predictability and rigidity that they exhibit at times. The patterns of decision-making would be less narrow and bring a closer relationship between ordinary citizens and the justice system (Roosevelt & Vassilas, 2019). The current situation with the life-term judges is that they are not responsive to changes, and are completely distanced from the life of citizens.

Supreme Court Justices serve life terms to deter them from outside influences that might threaten their decisions. It is argued that justices could make errant decisions that are influenced by limited terms. When they serve life terms, the justices are able to make autonomous decisions that are sound, independent, impartial and long-lasting (Roosevelt & Vassilas, 2019). However, in their responsibilities of shaping American legislation for prolonged periods gives them unlimited power that is dangerous if left unchecked.

Supreme Court Justices should not serve life terms to avoid redundancy, complacency, and partisanship. They lose touch with the ordinary citizen life that is subject to changes, while the justices remain gratuitously steadfast. There is a need for change through the introduction of term limits that can help give the justice system the much-needed change. Unexpected deaths can also lead to unfair appointments and cause issues related to partisanship. However, it is difficult to make changes to the US constitution, and the situation may prolong until people accept that reasonable change fosters positive results going forward.


Greenhouse, L. (2012). The U.S. Supreme Court: A very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Roosevelt, K., & Vassilas, R. (2019). "Supreme Court justices should have term limits."

CNN. Retrieved 2019 from

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