In a bipartisan report from legal scholars to President Joe Biden that examines the work of the U.S. Supreme Court, it appears there was support for term limits, but no consensus on adding judges.
The report was assembled in response to public reaction that the court had grown out of balance after President Donald Trump had appointed three of the remaining judges, which gave the appearance of an unbalanced Supreme Court. Trump’s appointees moved the court to conservative. Conservatives now hold a 6-3 advantage.
There was a time when years would go by and no one would get to appoint a new judge. The Supreme Court commission’s report was passed 34-0, and one of the commissioners said the court has been packed by one party and will remain that way for years to come.
Two other former federal judges who were nominated by Republican presidents expressed concerns about proposals to limit the tenure of justices and to narrow the court’s jurisdiction. It is not known if the Biden administration will follow any of the recommendations. But the document lays out arguments on either side.
Calls for overhauling the U.S. Supreme Court began after the Republican-controlled Senate blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016. The argument found renewed urgency after the Senate rushed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The public’s view of the court has been declining. The issues the court takes up continue to divide the country and won’t get any easier — from gun rights and abortion. They recently heard a case for religious freedom from the former Bremerton high school football coach who prayed after the game with his team.
Liberal lawmakers continue to back legislation to expand the court’s size. Among the proposals the commission considered include term limits for justices, who now have life tenures. Until the 1960s, the average tenure was about 15 years, but that has increased to 26 years — Justice Clarence Thomas joined the bench 30 years ago.
There is also the question of whether lawmakers could even pass a law that could be considered by the Supreme Court, should lawmakers get that adventuresome. The report includes suggestions to improve transparency such as improving explanations of decisions, adding an advisory code of conduct, and continue live-streaming audio of oral arguments.
But the key is to add more justices so we don’t find ourselves in another crisis with a president trying to stack the deck — and then add term limits.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact email@example.com.