August 05, 2022

Hirono, Colleagues Introduce Term Limit Measure to Restore Balance, Fairness to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an effort to restore balance and fairness to the nation’s highest court, Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) 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.

“Far-right groups have spent years working to tip the Supreme Court’s balance in their favor, leaving us with an outcome-driven Court that increasingly disregards precedent, separation of powers, and the rule of law,” said Senator Hirono. “We are already seeing the detrimental consequences of this right-wing power grab—from overruling common sense gun safety law, and restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to combat climate change, to eliminating the fundamental right to abortion care. We need to restore balance and fairness to our nation’s highest court. Creating term limits for Supreme Court justices is a first step in that process.”

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.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Hirono has consistently championed more robust ethics and accountability for the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. In May, she introduced a new version of the Twenty-First Century Court Act to promote accountability and increase transparency in federal courts. Two months prior, Senator Hirono joined a bicameral letter demanding answers regarding Justice Clarence Thomas’s potential violation of federal ethics law after reports on the efforts of his wife, Ms. Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Senator Hirono is also an original cosponsor of the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2021, legislation directing the Judicial Conference of the United States to issue a judicial code of conduct for judges and justices of U.S. courts, including Justices of the Supreme Court.

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. 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 companion legislation last week in the House of Representatives.

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