One Cheer for Supreme Court Term Limits
One of the more focal level-headed proposals for Supreme Court reform is imposing 18-year term limits with guaranteed rotation in office every two years. I share the view that this probably would need to be done by constitutional amendment. But in my view that is not a major drawback, and a constitutional amendment could also fix the number of Supreme Court Justices at the same time, which is probably a good idea at this point.
Instead, I worry about this proposal on the merits. I have two major concerns, neither of which were covered in Jonathan’s recent post.
The final-period problem. If Supreme Court Justices will no longer hold their jobs for as long as they are healthy and interested, then they will probably start holding other jobs after they are Supreme Court Justices. This risks changing their behavior. There will be a natural tendency to start auditioning for one’s next job. And regardless, the sitting Justices will lose some of their current incentives to invest in their own judicial reputation as judges.
(And in standard game theory, this naturally unravels. In their last year on the bench, the Justice realizes they’ll never be a Justice again, so they may as well seize the day. In the next to last year, they realize they’ll be seizing the day next year, so they may as well start this year. In the next to next to last year, they do the same thing, and so on.)
Whether this is a big deal or not depends
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