Supreme Court

Are Supreme Court Term Limits Coming Soon?

Biden’s Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court seems to favor judicial term limits.


In April, President Joe Biden announced a new Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States. The group would be composed of legal scholars and activists and would "provide an analysis of the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform," according to a statement released by the White House.

That commission has been meeting this month. And as SCOTUSblog's Mitchell Jagodinski has reported, "term limits emerged as the leading reform proposal, and the commissioners seemed interested in fine-tuning how they will treat that subject in their report to the president, which is due this fall." Jadodinksi continued:

Much of the panel discussions spent a great deal of time on how term limits could be implemented. One consideration is the specific duration. An 18-year term limit would mean a new justice every two years—or two appointments per presidency. Other potential timeframes include 12 or 16 years. But as Vicki Jackson, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, explained, 12 years may be too short and could allow a two-term president to appoint six of the nine justices.

If the commission is serious about attracting bipartisan support for any Supreme Court "reform" it favors, recommending term limits may be the way to go. Unlike court packing, which is obviously designed to benefit one party's judicial appointees at the expense of the other party's judicial appointees, term limits would ostensibly benefit both Democratic and Republican presidents over the long haul. By assuring that each future president gets at least two SCOTUS picks, such a reform might even lower the temperature a little bit in future Supreme Court nomination fights.

Setting aside whether the idea is attractive, imposing judicial term limits would be no simple feat. According to Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution, "The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour." That language has long been understood as granting life tenure to Supreme Court justices. In other words, term limits would likely require a constitutional amendment.