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7 Democrats introduce longshot bill to put term limits on Supreme Court, citing a post-Roe 'legitimacy crisis'

Business Insider logo Business Insider 7/28/2022 mjankowicz@businessinsider.com (Mia Jankowicz)
The US Supreme Court is seen behind fences in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2022. Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images © Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images The US Supreme Court is seen behind fences in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2022. Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
  • A group of Democrats proposed a bill to reduce SCOTUS terms from life to 18 years.
  • Every presidency would get to nominate two justices, moving the most senior off the bench.
  • The proposal comes at a time of record mistrust in the Supreme Court.

A group of seven House Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday that seeks to end lifetime service on the Supreme Court.

The proposal is "an effort to restore legitimacy and independence" to the court, according to its lead sponsor, Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia.

The proposal would create a much faster rotation of justices in two ways: by guaranteeing two new appointments in each presidency and creating absolute term limits of 18 years.

The idea faces very long odds: neither Congress nor the White House has demonstrated an appetite for even mild reform of the court.

But it shows the desire among some Democrats to push back after the court reversed decades of universal access to abortions in the US by overturning Roe v. Wade.

Under the Democratic proposal, new appointments to the court no longer come only when a justice dies. Instead, each president could appoint two justices per term, in their first and third years of office.


Video: Is Supreme Court reform possible? Lawmakers introduce a bill to impose term limits (USA TODAY)

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Existing justices would leave the court in the order they joined. Per the bill, they would keep their pay and status but no longer actively serve unless another justice was incapacitated.

The bill comes in the wake of what Rep. Jerry Nadler called "harmful and out-of-touch rulings."

Abortion rights supporters hold signs of U.S. Supreme Court Justices as they participate in a rally and march on May 14, 2022 in New York City. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images © Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images Abortion rights supporters hold signs of U.S. Supreme Court Justices as they participate in a rally and march on May 14, 2022 in New York City. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Since news of the Roe v.Wade ruling was leaked, there has been widespread discussion in the Democratic Party about how to deal with the reality of a Supreme Court with a 6-3 majority of conservative justices, three of which were appointed by President Donald Trump and likely have decades still to serve.

Johnson, the bill's proposer, said: "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."

The idea of term limits has some popular support. A May YouGov poll of 6,868 US adults found that 72% of Democratic voters and 54% of Republican support the idea. The length of the term itself was not specified.

A bipartisan group commissioned by President Joe Biden also concluded in December that term limits would be a viable method of reform.

Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have called for less far-reaching methods of reform such as expanding the court — a move that Biden opposed in June

The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Jerry Nadler (NY), David Cicilline (RI), Shelia Jackson Lee (TX), Steve Cohen (TN) Karen Bass (CA) and Ro Khanna (CA). 

Cicilline said in a statement: "We must address the crisis currently facing the Court in terms of its legitimacy and the public's confidence in it. This legislation is an important step to restoring the Court's important role in our constitutional system."

A June poll — conducted by Gallup before the court overturned Roe v. Wade, but after the draft opinion was leaked – found that a record low of 25% of Americans trust the Supreme Court. The reasons for that lack of confidence were not specified.

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