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Lifetime Appointments Are a Horrible Idea


Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Since everyone is talking about the Supreme Court today it is worth highlighting another one of the many structural problems with our Constitution. The practice of lifetime appointments to any position of power is truly insane.

I understand the logic behind it. Our justices are supposed to be removed from regular politicians and our court system should not shift dramatically with every single election.  But this goal can be easily achieved simply with a long appointment, such as 18 years. For example, judges on the German Federal Court have 12 year terms.

A long appointment won’t produce nearly as many problems as lifetime appointments do. Justices could theoretically serve well into their 90’s and it is unlikely to not have some diminished mental capacity at that age. This is why many countries have a mandatory retirement age for their judges. In Canada it is 75 years old. In Australia it is 70.

The only option for getting rid of judges who can no longer handle their jobs mentally, besides peer pressure, is impeachment, an incredibly involved process that is simply not a practical solution.

The other big problem with lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court is that it results in sub-par nominees. It creates the terrible incentive for a President to create the longest possible imprint on the Court, since a justice could easily serve for half a century. This results in Presidents going for the youngest plausible nominees, not always the best nominees. This is why the last four justices were under the age of 56 when they were sworn in.

The fact that our system would theoretically allow nine centenarians with questionable mental capacity to make some of the most important decisions for country is truly idiotic. It is very easy to create a better system.

Photo by DonkeyHotey released under Creative Commons License

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at