Roughly 67 percent of Americans now favor term limits or a mandatory retirement age for United States Supreme Court Justices, according to a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The poll found that 82 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans support proposals to limit the number of years justices can serve.
These numbers come just weeks after the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings that overturned Roe v. Wade, expanded concealed carry firearm protections, and limited the power of the federal administrative state.
The numbers from the AP poll also follow separate polling data showing that Americans’ confidence in key institutions — including the Supreme Court — has plummeted to an all-time low.
Democrats’ confidence in the Court has dropped 18 percent since 2021. Independent voters show a 15 percent drop in support for the Court, while Republican confidence has increased three points from last year.
“I think some of those people have been up there too long. They don’t have new ideas,” Inez Parker, an 84-year-old Democrat from North Carolina, told the AP. “When you get a certain age and everything you get set in your ways just like I’m set in my ways.”
Article III, Section I of the U.S. Constitution says:
“The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.”
The phrase “during good behavior” has been interpreted to mean Supreme Court judges may remain in office for the duration of their life unless they choose to retire or are removed for misconduct.
Changing the tenure of Supreme Court justices cannot be done by congressional legislation; it requires a constitutional amendment.
Justices serve lifetime appointments to insulate the Court from political interference from the legislative or executive branches. It protects the Court and its judges from retribution or punishment that may follow decisions the political establishment, or public, may dislike.
“That was put into the Constitution to preserve the total independence of the judiciary,” said Northeastern law professor Michael Meltsner, the George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law. “Once a justice is confirmed and takes a seat on the court, they’re not beholden to anybody.”
Meltsner said that lifetime appointments free the Court to make decisions based on the law, rather than political favor.
Democrats have sharpened their attacks on the Court in recent weeks following the aforementioned rulings, which curtail significant parts of their agenda.
“While this extremist Supreme Court works to punish and control the American people, Democrats must continue our fight to expand freedom in America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after Roe v. Wade was struck down and the issue was returned to the states.
Democrats have renewed calls to pack the Court by adding four new seats, thereby expanding the total number of justices to thirteen — a proposal of which even President Biden is currently unsupportive.
Biden did, however, assemble the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, which is sympathetic to the idea of term limits.
The poll of 1,085 adults was conducted July 14-17 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to be representative of the U.S. population.
The margin of sampling error for all respondents is + or – 3.9 percentage points.