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It's Time For Supreme Court Term Limits

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January 11, 2005
Steven Calabresi

Steven Calabresi

Steven Calabresi, professor of law and co-founder of the Federalist Society, is among a group of noted professors from leading law schools who are questioning life tenure for U.S. Supreme Court justices.

“With op-ed columns, law review articles and a tentatively planned conference on the issue in the spring, the professors hope to force the nation to face what they say is a long-ignored problem of ever-lengthening and increasingly unaccountable service on the nation's highest court,” wrote Tony Mauro in a Jan. 3 article in The Recorder titled “Justices for Life? Not with New Proposal.”

In a joint statement, the professors argue that the power of the electorate to influence Supreme Court appointments has diminished because of the infrequency of vacancies.

“Justices are currently serving too long, vacancies are opening up too rarely, and the stakes attached to filling each vacancy are simply too high,” Calabresi said in an e-mail.  “No other country let's its high Court judges serve for life, and only one of the 50 States, Rhode Island, has life tenure for its highest Court judges.  It is time to move to term limits for the Supreme Court.”

The proposal is backed by academics ranging from liberal Georgetown University Law Center professor Mark Tushnet to Calabresi, George C. Dix Professor of Constitutional Law.

"A lot of people are very interested in this issue right now," said Calabresi in The Recorder article. That is in part because it has been 10 years since the last high court vacancy.

The average length of service of justices who left between 1971 and 2000 was 25.5 years, according to Calabresi. "Serving 25 years or more is too long in a democracy,” he said in the article.

Calabresi, who served in the Reagan and Bush Administrations from 1985 to 1990, is an expert on the presidency and the separation of powers. He has written 30 law review articles on presidential power, the separation of powers and federalism.