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September 19, 2023

Rep. Schiff Joins Rep. Johnson to Introduce Supreme Court Justice Term Limit Measure to Restore Balance, Legitimacy for SCOTUS

Washington, DC – Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) joined Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) to introduce the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization (TERM) Act, which would set term limits for Supreme Court justices while establishing a process for Supreme Court appointments. Under the TERM Act, a new justice would take the bench every two years and spend 18 years in active service, while preserving constitutional protections for judicial independence in decision-making.

“Implementing term limits for Supreme Court Justices is a critical step towards restoring the nation’s faith in our justice system and protecting Americans’ fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Rep. Schiff. “Term limits will ensure that an entire generation of Americans will not suffer a further loss of their freedoms under a reactionary and partisan Supreme Court, and that no future Senate Leader can stack the Court the way McConnell did.”

“Our system is broken, and Congress must act if we are to save freedom, liberty, and democracy for all,” said Rep. Johnson. “This year, I’ve introduced several judicial reforms—including the Judiciary Act to expand the Court, and the Supreme Court Ethics Recusal and Transparency Act—and today I am proud to introduce another crucial part of the Court Reform package: the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization Act of 2023, also known as the TERM Act. The TERM Act would limit Supreme Court Justices to 18-year terms in active service, and it would regularize appointments so that new justices are appointed in the first and third years after each presidential election. The TERM Act is necessary because lifetime tenure on the United States Supreme Court leads to a Court that is insulated from, and unaccountable to, the American people, which is bad for democracy.” 

The 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 nominations 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 a randomly-selected senior status Supreme Court justice to fill in on the Court if the number of justices in regular active service falls below nine.

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. Term limits for Supreme Court justices are an essential tool to restoring a constitutional balance to the three branches of the federal government.

The 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.

“Public confidence in the Supreme Court is at the lowest level since polling began 50 years ago. For an institution whose credibility is its currency, this is a historic crisis. By requiring that justices serve in staggered 18-year terms, the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization Act would ensure that the Court more closely resembles the country it serves and curtail justices’ ability to time their retirements in order to ensure that someone with a similar political ideology succeeds them on the bench. This structural reform, which has been endorsed by liberal and conservative legal scholars across the ideological spectrum, is necessary to respond to the magnitude of the current crisis. We call on Congress to pass it as expeditiously as possible,” said  Noah Bookbinder, President of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

“Once again, 4th District Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson is leading the charge against the conservative extremists holding the nation’s Supreme Court hostage. By reintroducing the TERM Act, Representative Johnson is signaling that term limits for Justices are long overdue. At a time when new allegations of misconduct and breaches of the public trust make news on a regular basis, it seems the time for lifetime membership in the elite club of Supreme Court Justices has passed. Imposing term limits is an important step in ensuring the Supreme Court wins back the public's waning confidence in its nonpartisan judicial integrity,” said  Analilia Mejia, Co-Executive Director, Center for Popular Democracy.

“The Supreme Court’s repeated attacks on our fundamental freedoms and multiple ethics scandals have undermined the trust and legitimacy the Court’s authority rests on. It’s time to restore balance and integrity to the Supreme Court by imposing 18-year term limits on all Supreme Court justices — liberal and conservative. Term limits are common sense – in fact, 49 states already impose fixed terms or mandatory retirement ages on their highest judges. With term limits, Americans can be assured that every president has the chance to choose two Supreme Court justices during their 4-year term, the Court will be more balanced over the long term, and we can stop treating Supreme Court nominations like all-out partisan warfare. Stand Up America is proud to support Representative Johnson and fight to pass the TERM Act,” said Christina Harvey, executive director of Stand Up America.

“Term limits are an important piece of the overall reforms needed at the Supreme Court,” said Svante Myrick, president of People For the American Way. “We need the Court to be accountable, and life terms only insulate the Court from a sense of responsibility to a justice system that protects all of us, no matter our wealth or position. Not only that, the American people elect presidents to staff the Court, and the people we elect should get an equal chance at that opportunity.  This reform would more clearly give the American people input into the selection of justices and help reduce the manipulation of vacancies and partisan fights that surround the Supreme Court now.”  

“After overturning decades of legal precedent last year in their Dobbs and NYSRPA v. Bruen decisions, this Supreme Court has time and again proven that it doesn’t care about the vast majority of Americans’ opinions, or about supporting and protecting America’s youth, and is increasingly disinterested in constitutional jurisprudence or stare decisis. Through these unprecedented and legally dubious decisions, the court is increasingly becoming an illegitimate institution in the eyes of young people, with nearly 70% of young people disapproving of the court. That is why March For Our Lives, one of the largest youth-led organizations in the nation, representing the voice of hundreds of thousands of young people across the country, supports term limits for the court. Young people deserve a judicial system that represents us, understands us, and will fight for us,”  said Ari Kane, March For Our Lives Chapter Lead at Georgetown University

“This out-of-control Supreme Court is daring Congress to pass ethics legislation, and it’s time to call their bluff,” said Rakim Brooks, president of Alliance for Justice. “The Court is more politicized than ever. Justices enjoy lavish rewards from conservative billionaires and yet we're supposed to pretend their decisions are neutral and in the public interest. Term limits are a necessary corrective to this sad state. The founders never intended that judges would serve until their dying breath. If they saw this bunch, I'm sure they'd scream, 'Term Limits Now!’”  

“We are at a tipping point, as Americans on both sides of the aisle have grown distrustful of the Supreme Court. Term limits would restore our faith in this pillar of democracy,” said Alan Cohn, CEO Term Limit the Court.

“Dark money has captured the Supreme Court and instilled a far-right extremist majority which has put the needs of special interests above the American people — and as a result, the faith and confidence in the Supreme Court has plummeted to all-time lows. Thanks to lifetime appointments and no term limits, Justices have made a mockery of ethical standards and proven unable to hold themselves to the same standard as all other federal judges. We thank Congressman Johnson for his continued leadership to reform the Supreme Court to rebuild the trust of the American people and ensure equal justice for all,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund. 

The TERM Act is cosponsored by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.),  and Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.).

The bill is endorsed by Get Money Out -- Maryland, Center for Popular Democracy, American Humanist Association, Rise, End Citizens United//Let America Vote Action Fund, People Power United, True North Research, Indivisible Santa Fe, Reproaction, Stand Up America, People For the American Way, Indivisible, Blue Future, Demand Justice, DemCast USA, Reproductive Rights Coalition, Newtown Action Alliance, Secure Elections Network, Center for Common Ground, Public Citizen, Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), March For Our Lives, National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota, People's Parity Project, Alliance for Justice, and Take Back The Court.

You can find the full bill text here.