Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–2. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
8 JUDICATURE Volume 89, Number 1 July-August 2005 T he image of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, encum- bered by illness, tentatively making his way down the west steps of the Capitol to administer the oath of office to the newly re-elected President George W. Bush offered a vivid illustra- tion of the humanity of the Supreme Court. Virtually all of the justices are now well into the autumn of their careers; the entire Court, save Jus- tice Clarence Thomas, is age 65 or older. Despite their age, the current justices have shown little sign of turnover. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s recently announced departure is the first in over a decade. Indeed, no group of justices has served together this long since John Marshall was sitting on the Court. In light of these facts, numerous observers of the Court have concluded that it is time to reconsider life tenure for the justices. Reviving proposals that have been in cir- culation since the 1990s, observers have begun to make various suggestions to transform the Court’s member- ship—imposing term limits or elevating justices to senior status after a certain number of years, for example 1 —but these proposals presuppose that the current Court con- stitutes a deviation from the historical norm so substan- tial as to require legislative reform. Centering on such problems as judicial incapacitation and entrenched power, strategic retirements from the Court, and presidential incentives to select young nominees unseasoned for serv- ice, critics charge that lifetime appointments to the Court should be replaced with a system that secures more regular turnover and reduces the age of the justices. But is reform actu- ally warranted? Are the justices, in fact, too elderly, too stubbornly fixed, or serving too long? This article examines some of the historical trends in the length of service on the Court and concludes that, contrary to current assertions, the tenure of the justices has been quite stable over time. While the age of the justices is presently higher than the historical mean, it is not substantially so. AN ASSESSMENT OF TENURE ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT by KEVIN T. MCGUIRE 1. See, e.g. , Amar and Calabresi, Term Limits for the High Court , Washington Post, August 9, 2002, at.A23; Carrington and Cramton, The Supreme Court Renewal Act: A Return to Basic Principles March 5, 2005 ( Supreme Court Renewal Act.htm); DiTullio and Schochet, Saving this Honor- able Court: A Proposal to Replace Life Tenure on the Supreme Court with Staggered Nonrenewable Eighteen-Year Terms , 90 V A. L. REV. 1093 (2004); Lazarus, Life Tenure for Federal Judges: Should It Be Abolished? , Findlaw’s Writ, December 9, 2004 ( Some of the earlier proposals can be found in Easterbrook, Geritol Justice: Is the Supreme Court Senile? , N EW REPUBLIC Aug. 19, 1991, at 17; Oliver, Systematic Justice: A Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Establish Fixed, Staggered Terms for Members of the
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Page1 / 8


This preview shows document pages 1 - 2. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online