Should Congress Set Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices?


With recent Supreme Court decisions minimizing public trust and confidence in the Court, debate regarding potential reforms of the Court, including term limits for justices, has intensified and support for such changes has grown. For example, in C-SPAN/Pierrepont’s 2022 Supreme Court Survey, respondents were presented with the following question: “Some say that instead of lifetime appointments, it would be better if U.S. Supreme Court justices served an 18-year term with possible reappointment by the President (subject to Senate confirmation). Which of the following comes closest to your view on the length of terms for U.S. Supreme Court justices?” In response, 38% of respondents indicated that they Strongly prefer 18 year appointment, 31% Somewhat prefer 18 year appointment, 10% Somewhat prefer lifetime appointment, 7% Strongly prefer lifetime appointment, and 14% Don’t know.

Regardless of public opinion in support of suggested reforms, the path forward is murky. Certain proposed reforms could be agreed upon by the Supreme Court itself, others could be enacted via Congressional statute, and still others, such as term limits, may need to be implemented via Constitutional amendment. Is each change worth the potential political drawbacks? How might each change shift the makeup of the court in 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? And would the proposed changes maintain the independence of the court, a key tenet of American democratic principles outlined in Section III of the U.S. Constitution?

As Congress evaluates the path forward, it is time for your students to consider the same issue. This deliberation includes ten video clips, two articles, and several educational activities to guide students through a review of the current legal framework, the varied perspectives regarding the issue, and the potential ways forward. After a careful review of multiple perspectives, students will determine whether or not Congress should impose term limits on Supreme Court justices and be presented with several optional extensions to take an active role in the debate.

Objectives and Outcomes

  • Students will be able to describe key vocabulary terms and concepts associated with the debate surrounding Supreme Court term limits.

  • Students will be able to identify and explain aspects of the debate over Supreme Court term limits, including those related to the independence of the court, related legislative considerations, and public confidence in the court.

  • Students will be able to evaluate arguments related to proposed actions on the issue and formulate an opinion on this question.