Democrats re-introduce bill to set term limits for Supreme Court justices

“I’d love for the court to save itself from itself and determine that it needs to apply a code of conduct to itself,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

Democratic congressional members are continuing efforts to restore fairness and balance to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., held a press conference in front of the court’s steps to re-introduce the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization (TERM) Act. The bill would would establish term limits for Supreme Court justices, who currently serve lifetime appointments.

UNITED STATES – April 15: Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., speaks during a news conference outside the Supreme Court with other Democratic members to announce legislation to expand the number of seats of Supreme Court judges in Washington on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The bill introduced by the Georgia congressman and co-sponsored by Reps. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y. and Shri Thanedar, D-Mich., proposes setting term limits to 18 years. If passed into law, the sitting U.S. president would appoint a new justice every two years. Once the two years is up, justices will then be given seniority status and removed from the bench. If at any time the number of justices on the bench falls below nine, then a senior justice will step in.

The current Supreme Court justices, whose time on the bench ranges from 31 years to just over a year, would assume senior status in order of length of service on the court as regularly appointed justices receive their commissions.

Johnson told theGrio that given the current instability of the Supreme Court, it is critical to eradicate lifetime appointments since the court refuses to uphold an ethical standard.

The House Judiciary Committee member linked the Supreme Court to the “good ol’ boy network that is comfortable being immune from accountability.”

He continued, “[The justices] are so arrogant that they think the American people don’t realize what they actually see, which is a billionaire having a justice in his hip pocket bought and paid for over not just a year or two, but several decades.”

Johnson referred to Justice Clarence Thomas, who failed to disclose that he had received lavish gifts from a wealthy GOP donor for several years, as theGrio previously reported.

Clarence Thomas,
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivers a keynote speech during a dedication of Georgia new Nathan Deal Judicial Center in Atlanta, Feb. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)

For months, congressional members and activists have been calling on the court to adopt a code of ethics following scathing reports that revealed several justices violated ethical standards.

Rep. Goldman, who also attended the press conference on Tuesday, told theGrio he believes the justices have refused to independently adopt a code of ethics because they “don’t want to acknowledge all of their prior violations and don’t want to be policed.”

Over the summer, ProPublica released findings from an investigation that detailed Justice Samuel Alito enjoyed a luxury fishing trip with a Republican billionaire who had cases heard before the Supreme Court, as theGrio previously reported.

In recent months, it has also been revealed that Chief Justice John Roberts’ wife earned millions of dollars for assisting high-ranking lawyers in getting their cases heard before the court. And just days after Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the bench, a law firm acquired property in which the justice kept a stake, and that firm had also had cases heard before the court.

Congressman Johnson told theGrio that despite there being evidence that shows justices have crossed ethical lines, the Supreme Court “feels like it doesn’t have to” adopt a code of ethics.

Members of the Supreme Court sit for a new group portrait following the addition of Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“They feel like…they can handle their business just quietly amongst themselves with each justice being the judge and jury of his or her ethical conduct, and with the other justices taking a back seat and letting things go,” he said. “I’d love for the court to save itself from itself and determine that it needs to apply a code of conduct to itself.”

He added, “I just don’t know what would happen to cause them to do it.”

Goldman told theGrio the Supreme Court needs to do all that it can to restore “confidence” back into the judicial system.

“The Supreme Court is the only court…that does not have a binding code of ethics that applies to them. How can the highest court have the lowest ethical standards?” he said. “This is part of the reason why we [are] pushing Chief Justice Roberts to implement a robust reform of the ethics to apply a code of conduct [or] have an independent investigative body.”

Although Johnson’s TERM Act, which was originally introduced in August 2022, was not enacted into law, the Georgia lawmaker is hopeful that the bill will pass in both the House and Senate this session.

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