Coalition of 56 Activist Groups Backs Democrat Bill to Impose Supreme Court Term Limits

Sponsor Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said the legislation was needed because the court is ‘unaccountable to the American people, which is bad for democracy.’
Coalition of 56 Activist Groups Backs Democrat Bill to Impose Supreme Court Term Limits
The Supreme Court building in Washington, on June 7, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Matthew Vadum

A coalition of 56 left-wing activist groups has endorsed legislation that would force term limits on Supreme Court justices.

The endorsement comes at a time when public approval of the Supreme Court, which has been underwater for years, is rising, as the court’s rulings that liberals object to become less prominent in the rearview mirror.

A poll published last week by Marquette Law School found that 47 percent of adults approved of the job the nation’s highest court is doing, while 53 percent disapproved. Public support for the Supreme Court was substantially higher almost four years ago. In Marquette’s September 2020 poll, 66 percent of respondents approved of the court, while 33 percent disapproved.

The legislative proposal, introduced in September 2023 by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), is H.R.5566, or the proposed Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization Act (TERM Act). Among the bill’s 28 cosponsors are Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and David Trone (D-Md.).

The bill would force out justices after 18 years of regular active service, at which point they would assume senior status, a kind of semi-retirement for federal judges, and continue to draw a federal paycheck for life. Superannuated justices are already allowed to serve on lower courts due to a 1937 law that allows justices to sit “by designation” on those courts.

Former Justice David Souter, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2009 after being appointed to it in 1990 by the late President George H.W. Bush, has reportedly participated in more than 500 cases as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

Former Justice Stephen Breyer, who left the Supreme Court in June 2022, recently said he plans to hear cases on the First Circuit, where he previously served as a judge before being elevated to the Supreme Court. Justice Breyer was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1994 after being nominated by President Bill Clinton.

The legislation would mandate regular nominations of Supreme Court justices in the first and third years after a presidential election and bar nominations at other times.

Democrats were angered by President Donald Trump’s swift replacement of the famously liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18, 2020, with the conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, mere days before the 2020 presidential election.

They were infuriated when a Republican-controlled Senate refused to move President Barack Obama’s nomination of now-Attorney General Merrick Garland to the nation’s highest court after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. The vacancy was left open by the Senate until a new chief executive, President Trump, nominated Neil Gorsuch, who was sworn in as a justice in April 2017.

Rep. Johnson has said the legislation is needed because the Supreme Court “is increasingly facing a legitimacy crisis.”

“The TERM Act is necessary because lifetime tenure on the United States Supreme Court leads to a Court that is insulated from, and unaccountable to, the American people, which is bad for democracy,” Mr. Johnson said when he introduced the measure. The bill was previously filed in Congress in 2022 but failed to make it out of committee.

Christina Harvey, executive director of Stand Up America, which endorsed the bill, said, “No one deserves power for life.”

“Extremists on the Supreme Court have undermined our democracy and fundamental freedoms by gutting voting rights, opening the floodgates to unlimited corporate money in our elections, and reversing 50 years of precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade,” she added.

Over the past two years, Democrats and their left-wing activist allies have been incensed by a series of Supreme Court decisions. Rulings by the court have returned abortion policy to the states, eliminated affirmative action in college admissions, bolstered gun rights and public prayer, supported a website designer’s right to refuse to promote a same-sex wedding, and strengthened private property rights while weakening the government’s regulatory powers over the environment.

Among the other left-of-center groups endorsing the bill are Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Color of Change, Demand Justice, Greenpeace USA, MoveOn, People for the American Way, Secure Elections Network, and the Working Families Party.

Democrats are also pushing separate legislation that would impose a code of conduct on the Supreme Court. They are driven by their desire to exert power over a court that hasn’t been ruling their way on key issues, legal experts previously told The Epoch Times.
Democrats claim there is an ethics crisis at the Supreme Court and support S.359, the proposed Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act of 2023, which cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2023 on a party-line vote in July.

The proposal, which Republicans have denounced as unconstitutional, would create a system allowing members of the public to file complaints against justices for violating the proposed code of conduct or for engaging “in conduct that undermines the integrity of the Supreme Court of the United States.” It would also impose mandatory recusal standards and create a panel of lower court judges to investigate complaints against the Supreme Court.

The legislation faces an uphill battle in the current Congress.

In November 2023, the Supreme Court adopted its first formal code of conduct. Republicans hailed the justices for taking action, but Democrats said the code has poor enforcement mechanisms and that it won’t fix a court they claim is overly sympathetic to business interests and conservative causes.

Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist.