For the first week of October, the emotion-filled confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh held us and our fellow Americans glued to our TVs, in moods ranging from horror, for some, to anger and tears for others and sheer disgust for the many.
You surely agree there must be a better way to recruit fresh blood to the highest court in the land?
This time around, too many people were sacrificed along the way — Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and her family, and the family of nominee Brett Kavanaugh — not to mention the state of mind of the millions of us watching and listening.
A nudge from the Economist, that British weekly that is always several visions ahead, suggested that it's time to enact term limits for Supreme Court justices. Turns out that several individuals and groups have been working for some time on changing the lifetime tenure written into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers.
When polled, 62 percent of voters support term limits. Two law professors well schooled in the issue have stated that the "system of life tenure is essentially a relic of pre-democratic times."
The most obvious reason given for putting time limits for justices to serve is that we are all living a lot longer than our forefathers did at the time the Constitution was written. Justice Clarence Thomas was only 43 when he was elevated to the Court. After 27 undistinguished years on the court, he still has the possibility of serving 20 more years.
Because they are living longer and tense political pressures continue to mount, justices are staying on the court longer. Where once justices served an average of 16 years, "the most recent 10 justices to leave the court averaged 25 years each," according to bloomberg.com.
Brett Kavanaugh is now 53 years old after barely winning the seat by the vote of two senators. Unfortunately partisanship has replaced merit, so replacements on the court are chosen in part by their age and political inclination. Kavanaugh at 53 exemplifies the current trend — choosing justices because they are younger and consequently will serve longer than in earlier times. In Justice Kavanaugh's case, he will bring a super-conservative vote to the scene with the prospect of serving years and years into the future.
As we are all aware, the Supreme Court wields an enormous amount of power. Decisions in the past have determined a presidential election, as in year 2000, Bush v. Gore; in 1973 the Roe v. Wade decision said women have a constitutional right to an abortion; and before that in 1964, Brown v. Board of Education, targeted school inequality for African-American children.
My friends and I are all Ruth Bader Ginsburg fans and wish she could stay on the court and live to be 106. That wish is, of course, too issue and partisan driven, and reflects the kind of irrational thinking that screams for term limits.
As the rift between parties has become more antagonistic, the Supreme Court seats have become evermore valuable. Little question that our current system has turned the appointment of a new justice into a free for all — someone has called it a media circus. The fact that President Obama was denied by Republicans the opportunity to fill Justice Antonin Scalia's chair, breaking all precedents, reflects the value the seat has in these times of partisan war.
Suggestions abound as to just how many years would comprise the ideal term for a Supreme Court Justice to serve. While nine years has been suggested, the most support among advocates for change is 18 years, with a replacement every two years. When fully phased in, the system would guarantee each president two appointments. Scheduled terms would take some of the pressure off these precious appointments.
I would suggest that nobody should be appointed to a job for life. "'Til death do us part" is probably best reserved for the marriage vow, and even there it's becoming a rarity.
Will term limits mend the current partisan split that has been so evident in the Kavanaugh nomination? All issues have become politicized along party lines. How can the court be returned to its original assignment — to be accountable to the Constitution and above politics?
I turned to Idaho-born problem solver Keith Allred, who founded the Common Interest, a citizens group in Idaho focused on reaching bipartisan solutions to Idaho's problems — especially problems of funding and policy in public education.
Dr. Allred, who taught mediation theory at Harvard and Columbia universities, told me term limits for Supreme Court justices may be a good idea, but he does not believe enacting term limits will solve the current partisan war that has overrun Congress, state legislatures and the entire country.
The Kavanaugh debacle brought home how serious this partisan national shouting match has become. Term limits for justices might be one small way to take down the volume long enough for us all to think straight. ♦