Paul Jacob

Term limits aren't just for the U.S. President and legislatures in 15 states. They deserve to be extended, even to the Supreme Court.


Many reasons have been offered.

Today's Supreme Court has only one justice younger than 65. It has been accepting fewer cases in recent years ? perhaps a result of an aging court?

Others argue that partisan rancor in the U.S. Senate is dangerously high; add the issue of selecting federal judgeships, especially to the High Court and for a life term, and you reach meltdown.

Norman Ornstein, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, writes in The Washington Post that "to prevent this partisan warfare from going nuclear: amend the Constitution to eliminate lifetime tenure in favor of single 15-year terms, at least for Supreme Court justices and federal appeals court judges."

Ornstein's support for limiting federal judges is a bit surprising, given his opposition to congressional term limits, which he argues would result in something akin to the end of the universe. Coming in the aftermath of a second term for President Bush, his support for limiting judicial tenure may have a partisan trigger.

Nonetheless, Ornstein is right, even if perhaps for the wrong reasons.

What are those better reasons? Could it have something to do with the reasoning of the current court?

Well, no small amount of sentiment for ending life tenure can be tied to a number of unpopular decisions. The Supreme Court ruling that flag-burning is speech protected by the First Amendment and the more recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance should be stricken, have deeply offended most Americans.

While many of the decisions have angered Republicans and conservatives, the Supreme Court judgment in the Bush v. Gore case, arguably deciding the 2000 presidential election, spurred anger and a reassessment of the Court by Democrats and liberals.

Yet, disagreeing with a particular decision ? even an important one, or several ? would hardly lead the American people to alter the basic Constitutional construction of the nation's judiciary. And shouldn't.

But a plethora of decisions reflect a court drunk with power, out of touch with the people and our Constitution. The court no longer seems independent of the other branches nor removed from politics.