Shaw: Term limit the Supreme Court

"A 12-year term is what high court justices serve in countries such as Germany and South Africa," writes columnist Jim Shaw. "It would change the lousy system where presidents look for young candidates to appoint so they can stay on for decades with their extremist rulings."

Jim Shaw
Jim Shaw
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It’s time to have term limits for Supreme Court justices. They should be limited to one 12-year term. Seeing how the President of the United States can only serve for eight years, 12 years is plenty for those on the high court.

Admittedly, I am writing this because I’m angry about recent Neanderthal and frightening Supreme Court decisions that are sending us back to the 1850s. Those decisions include bashing women’s reproductive rights, throwing out common sense gun control laws and climate change rules, and ignoring the separation of church and state. Not to be forgotten is the horrifying Supreme Court decision in 2013 which gutted the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. That has led to current un-American voter suppression.

Let’s get rid of lifetime Supreme Court appointments. The United States is the only developed democracy in the world that has them for its judiciary. Actually, there is nothing in the Constitution that speaks to lifetime appointments. The Constitution just says justices “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” If that was truly applied, then Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh never would have been put on the Court in the first place.

Somehow, the good behavior wording has been interpreted as a lifetime appointment. That wasn’t so bad when the country was founded. That’s because life expectancy then in the U.S. was about 40. Now, it’s 77. From 1789 to 1970, the average tenure of a Supreme Court justice was 15 years. Now, many of them stay for more than 30 long years.

At least there’s some accountability in the states. North Dakota Supreme Court justices are elected to 10-year terms, but can run for re-election. There’s an even better system in Minnesota. In that state, justices are elected to six-year terms and can run for re-election, but have a mandatory retirement age of 70.


Another reason we need term limits on the high court is because of the travesty of how justices make it to the Supreme Court. We now have a system of minority rule in this country. Presidents elected with far fewer votes than their opponents nominate the justices. They are often confirmed by Republican senators who represent much less than half the country. Then those justices make rulings that are out of step with the Constitution and opposed by most Americans.

Breaking news: Democracy is not extremism.
Term limits would mean each new president making far more appointments to the court than ever before in history. Is that likely to make the court less ideological, or more?
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Jackson, 51, joins the liberal bloc of a court with a 6-3 conservative majority. Her swearing in as President Joe Biden's replacement for retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer came six days after the court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade landmark that legalized abortion nationwide. Breyer, at 83 the court's oldest member, officially retired on Thursday.

Don’t forget how Republicans made up a phony rule that President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, wouldn’t even get a hearing because it was a presidential election year. Their shameful hypocrisy was fully exposed when they confirmed Amy Coney Barrett during the last presidential election year.

A 12-year term is what high court justices serve in countries such as Germany and South Africa. It would provide for fresh perspectives and expertise. It would change the lousy system where presidents look for young candidates to appoint so they can stay on for decades with their extremist rulings.

In the meantime, with more alarming decisions to come, the lasting damage these biased and long-serving justices will cause is enormous. The U.S. may become unrecognizable.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

"What happened in Texas and Louisiana will happen to women in North Dakota after the state’s abortion ban goes into effect later this month," writes columnist Jim Shaw. "The fact that abortion is still legal in neighboring Minnesota will be of little help."

Related Topics: U.S. SUPREME COURT
Opinion by Jim Shaw
InForum columnist Jim Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.
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