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Poll Shows Support for Supreme Court Tenure Limits, Split Over Adding Justices

Just 22 percent of respondents in the poll felt there shouldn’t be any limits on tenure for justices of the Court.

Razor wire-topped riot fencing stands in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 15, 2021.

A majority of Americans want to do away with lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices, according to new polling data. The poll results are an indication that the public is open to reforming the highest court in the U.S.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Thursday and Friday of last week found that 63 percent of voters support term or age limits for members of the Supreme Court. Only 22 percent felt that there shouldn’t be any limits at all to how long a justice of the court should serve.

On the issue of whether the court should see its membership size increase or not, however, respondents were divided. On that question, there was a near-even divide, with 38 percent saying they favored the idea while 42 percent opposed. The remaining respondents in the poll, Reuters said, were unsure.

Democrats have recently pushed for expanding the Supreme Court, which would require a simple act of Congress as the Constitution does not lay out how many justices there should be. Since 1869, the number of permanent seats on the court’s bench has been set at nine.

President Joe Biden fulfilled a campaign pledge last week by forming a commission to examine possible reforms to the Supreme Court, including looking at expansion or limits on tenure length. The commission is set to report back to the president with its findings in six months’ time, although it will not make a formal recommendation on what reforms should be made, if any.

While the formation of such a commission was welcomed by some, many progressives felt that it is simply delaying possible action on the court that should be taken today.

“We don’t have time to spend six months studying the issue — especially without a promise of real conclusions at the end,” said Aaron Belkin, director of Take Back the Court, a group in favor of expanding the Court’s size.

Echoing that sentiment, a group of Democratic lawmakers last Thursday, including House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-New York), introduced legislation that would expand the court’s size from nine justices to 13, giving Biden four new appointments. However, shortly after announcing their proposal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) shot down the effort.

“The ultimate goal here is to make the historically proper choice for the administration of justice in the long term,” Pelosi said, urging her colleagues to allow the commission formed by Biden to do its job first.

The need to expand the Supreme Court, however, arises from actions taken over the past few years by Republicans that resulted in what many see as an undue number of conservative justices being nominated and confirmed, with GOP obstruction disallowing a liberal nominee from even being considered.

Following Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected passing in 2016, former President Barack Obama nominated then-Judge Merrick Garland to replace him. But Republicans refused to allow a full vote in the Senate or even nomination hearings for Obama’s pick, citing the proximity of the presidential race that was set to happen in a few months. Republicans also blocked over 100 of Obama’s lower court appointments in his last few years in office.

However, after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in 2020, Republicans hypocritically pushed through former President Donald Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, just weeks before election day.

As a result of obstructing Garland and confirming Barrett, the balance on the Supreme Court is 6-3 in favor of conservative members versus liberal bloc members.

Because of their inconsistent actions, a number of progressive voices and lawmakers called for expanding the court to address its improper balance, resulting in Biden making his promise to form a commission on the matter last fall.

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