A commission tasked with studying potential changes to the Supreme Court released a first look Thursday night at its review, a draft report that is cautious in discussing proposals for expanding the court but also speaks approvingly of term limits for justices.
The commission described term limits as the proposal that appears to have “the most widespread and bipartisan support.” The commission said that three current justices — Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan — “have noted the potential benefits of term limits.” It also cited experts recommending an 18-year term limit for justices and said that term limits for state high court justices are common. The report also notes that the United States is the “only major constitutional democracy in the world that has neither a retirement age nor a fixed term of years for its high court Justices.”
The commission said it was divided over whether Congress has the power to create the equivalent of term limits for justices by statute or if a constitutional amendment is required. The commission’s report was cautious in addressing proposals for increasing the size of the court. It noted increasing the court’s size could create a more diverse court that could handle more cases. But it also noted that the “risks of Court expansion are considerable,” including to the court’s legitimacy.
The commission said most state high courts have fewer seats than the Supreme Court but that by global standards the Supreme Court is small, with France, Spain and Britain among the countries with larger high courts. “Other countries have found ways to make a larger court workable,” the commission said, while noting that: “We should be cautious about assuming, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court could easily follow the lead of its international analogues.”
A final report from the committee, which next meets Friday, is expected in about a month and would go to the president then. Even when the commission does finish its work, however, any proposals for change would be met with serious political headwinds particularly with midterm elections looming and the chance that Democrats could lose control of Congress.
The commission’s review was a campaign promise President Joe Biden made amid pressure from activists and Democrats to react after the court’s composition tilted to the right during President Donald Trump’s term. Many progressives have called for reforms including adding seats to the court or setting term limits [FOX 40].