Five Facts on Reforming the Supreme Court

Five Facts on Reforming the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court serves as the country’s “guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.” Since the Judiciary Act passed in 1789, the court has been a cornerstone of the country’s democracy and one of the country’s most important institutions. Yet in recent years the court has become far more partisan and polarizing, which has been destructive. This has led to some leaders calling for reform. Some have suggested expanding the size of the court, while others have called for term limits.Here are five facts on the state of the Supreme Court today and how it could be transformed in the coming years.

1. On the whole, Supreme Court justices now serve
longer tenuresthan ever before; Bloomberg reportsthat the predicted age when a justice will leave the court is now 83, compared to roughly 73 during the 1950s. The publication attributes this to a number of factors, including modern justices joining the Court at younger ages. The increase in life spans has also contributed to this phenomenon. The average life span of a Supreme Court justice in the late 1700s was 67 years, and the average life span of a justice in the late 1800s was roughly 74.

2. In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put fortha plan to expand the Supreme Court. POLITICOreports that this plan would have allowed the president to appoint up to six additional justices. While this proposal failed due to bipartisan opposition, a number of progressive activists today endorse expanding the court.

3. The battle over whom to appoint has also become increasingly partisanover the years. The can be seen in the Senate’s votes for confirming nominations to the court. President Ford’s nomination (John Paul Stevens) passed unanimously in the Senate, as did three of President Reagan’s (Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Sandra Day O’Connor). This is in stark contrast to more recent votes, including both of President Trump’s nominees (Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh).

4. The court itself has also become more polarized. The Week highlights that fewer than two percentof its decisions were decided by one vote before 1940. Yet today, that number has risen to close to 22 percent. As the court has begun to be perceived as more partisan, it has also eroded trust among Americans. A Gallup poll from 2000 showed that 62 percent of Americans approved of the “way the Supreme Court is handling its job.” In 2018, that number had dropped to 51 percent.

5. No Labels’ new research paper highlights the benefit of having justices serve one, 18-year term as a way to create a limit to how long one can keep his or her seat and bring more fairness to presidencies. Instituting such a change would likely require a constitutional amendment, though some scholars believe there are legislative strategies that can help lawmakers bypass this.