August 2, 2022

Whitehouse, Booker, Blumenthal, Schatz, Hirono Introduce Term Limit Measure to Restore Balance, Fairness to Supreme Court

Supreme Court TERM Act would establish 18-year terms for justices

Washington, DC – In an effort to restore balance and fairness to the nation’s highest court, U.S Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) today introduced the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization (TERM) Act, which would establish term limits for Supreme Court justices while preserving constitutional protections for judicial independence in decision-making.  Under the TERM Act, a new justice would take the bench every two years and spend 18 years in active service.

“Term limits need to be one part of the conversation about reforming the Supreme Court, which has been captured by big special interests,” said Senator Whitehouse, Chairman of Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee.  “Our legislation is a starting point for a national conversation about how best to fix a captive institution and make it more accountable to the people it is supposed to serve.”

“The Supreme Court is facing a crisis of legitimacy.  This crisis is the result of radical rulings that discard years of legal precedent and that are at odds with the views of the American people, ethical lapses, and the politicization of the Supreme Court confirmation process by Senate Republicans intent on using raw political power to transform the Court,” said Senator Booker.  “The American people have lost confidence in our nation’s Highest Court and, in turn, our democracy.  Fundamental changes are urgently needed to restore trust in the institution.  Setting term limits would create predictability and lower the stakes of future confirmation proceedings, de-politicizing the Court.  I’m proud to partner with Senators Whitehouse, Blumenthal, Schatz, and Hirono to introduce this bill.”

“Term limits will help restore credibility and trust to our nation’s highest court,” said Senator Blumenthal.  “Detached from the public and more politicized than ever, the Supreme Court will continue to face a crisis of legitimacy without fundamental reform.” 

The Supreme Court TERM Act would:

  • Establish terms of 18 years in regular active service for Supreme Court justices, after which justices who retain the office will assume senior status;
  • Establish regular appointments of Supreme Court justices in the first and third years following a presidential election as the sole means of Supreme Court appointments;
  • Require current justices to assume senior status in order of length of service on the Court as regularly appointed justices receive their commissions;
  • Preserve life tenure by ensuring that senior justices retired from regular active service continue to hold the office of Supreme Court justice, including official duties and compensation; and
  • Require the Supreme Court justice who most recently assumed senior status to fill in on the Court if the number of justices in regular active service falls below nine.

Far-right special interests have spent decades building a secretive network to pack the federal courts with judges selected to greenlight donor-friendly policies, and to run multi-million-dollar ad campaigns to keep those confirmations on track.  One estimate by investigative journalists valued this operation to capture our judiciary at more than $580 million.

The American people strongly sense that the Supreme Court needs to be reformed.  A recent poll by the Associated Press found that 67 percent of Americans support term limits for Supreme Court justices.

Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth said: “Ending life tenure at the Supreme Court might be the only thing that Senator Whitehouse and the co-founder of the Federalist Society agree on.  That alone would make the policy worth a second look, but when you consider that term limits would reduce the Court’s currently unchecked power and mean a more predictable confirmation process, and that it’s already backed by the vast majority of the country, that makes it worthy of serious consideration.  I’m pleased to lend my support to the TERM Act, and I appreciate the Senators’ leadership in introducing the Senate’s first-ever SCOTUS term limits bill.”

America is alone among modern constitutional democracies in allowing its high-court justices to serve for decades without term or age limits, resulting in some Presidents appointing no justices and others appointing as much as a third of the Court.  Regularizing appointments every two years will ensure a Supreme Court that is more representative of the nation, reflecting the choices of recently elected Presidents and Senators.

The Supreme Court TERM Act would build on the existing retirement system for Article III judges, which the Court has repeatedly upheld as constitutional.  The bill would also preserve judicial independence by ensuring that Supreme Court justices who assume senior status remain fully compensated members of the federal judiciary for life, capable of exercising official duties on and off the bench for as long as they choose.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA-04) introduced the legislation last week in the House of Representatives.

Meaghan McCabe (Whitehouse), (401) 453-5294

Maya Krishna-Rogers (Booker), (301) 580-7614

Maria McElwain (Blumenthal), (202) 224-6452

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921