The confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Saturday rejuvenated a national debate as to whether term limits should exist for Supreme Court Justices.
On Monday night, Northwestern’s Political Union, a student organization dedicated to discussing important political issues, hosted a debate about whether or not Supreme Court justices should be given lifetime appointments.
This past week’s events have led many to believe that the justices should sit on the bench for a limited term, potentially for 18 years. If the term limits were 18 years, each president would have roughly two Supreme Court nominations.
Weinberg senior Edmund Bannister led the debate against term limits.
“You’re all thinking in your heads… I don’t want Brett Kavanaugh serving for the rest of his life,” Bannister said in his opening statement. “But if you think the prospect of Brett Kavanaugh serving on the court for the rest of his life is scary, imagine the prospect of Brett Kavanaugh running for Senate or president.”
Bannister’s primary argument against term limits was the possibility of Supreme Court Justices becoming politicians after their terms, but he also raised concerns about term limits making nominations more partisan.
Weinberg senior Ian Odland was less concerned about the career overlap of politicians and justices.
“A lot of people here would have no problem with RBG running for president,” he said. A more serious danger, he argued, is the possibility of justices becoming lobbyists.
On the opposing side, Weinberg junior Alex Smith argued in favor of term limits.
Smith argued that with lifetime appointments, fewer people are nominated, making each one a highly politicized ordeal.
“You’re more likely to see election violence,” Smith said. “You’re more likely to see fraud.”
Furthermore, the life expectancy has increased dramatically in the modern age and justices are serving for a longer period of time. Smith pointed out that the average tenure on the Supreme Court is 17 years, so an 18 year limit would simply maintain the turnover rate.
The politicization of the Supreme Court is a pivotal issue at the moment, especially in an era of bitter partisan politcs. Freshman John Magliore argued that establishing term limits increases media coverage, which would then politicize the court even more.
Smith disagreed. He said that the predictability of having two appointments per presidential term allows for planning and lower stakes.
Before the debate, an initial tally was taken. The total came out to fourteen people in support of term limits, six against and twenty abstentions.
After the debate, the final vote came out to twelve for term limits, seventeen against and eight abstentions.
Weinberg sophomore Sam Cole was one of the students who changed his mind despite initially endorsing term limits.
“[The Supreme Court has] always been by far the least political branch of our government, and I think we should try to maintain that at all costs,” Cole said.
Cole also argued that most people on circuit courts will never be on the Supreme Court, but if the Supreme Court becomes “a revolving door,” there will be more partisan decisions at the circuit court level.
Odland brought up an additional point in favor of term limits.
“Supreme Court nominees choose to retire depending on the administration,” he says. For example, Kennedy retired because Trump was elected, and Ginsburg will not retire for the same reason.
Odland argued that the cycle of the Supreme Court is not determined by the President at all, but by the Supreme Court Justices themselves, trying to ensure that their values will be upheld past their tenure.
Constitutional law is complex, but Weinberg senior Avi Dravid pointed out the central issue at stake: Should the court be subjected to the shifting tides of public opinion? Or should it be insulated?