Democrats Say Proposed Bill to Enact Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices Will Address 'Legitimacy Crisis'

“Term limits are a necessary step toward restoring balance to this radical, unrestrained majority on the court,” Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson says of the legislation he introduced

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A group of House Democrats hope to pass a bill that would enact term limits for Supreme Court justices.

Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia introduced the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization Act (or TERM Act), describing it as necessary to address a "legitimacy crisis" the court is "increasingly facing."

The bill was introduced a month after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision of 1973 that granted women the right to an abortion in every state, in a 6-3 ruling that prompted protests around the country.

"Five of the six conservative justices on the bench were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, and they are now racing to impose their out-of-touch agenda on the American people, who do not want it," Johnson said in a statement Tuesday. "Term limits are a necessary step toward restoring balance to this radical, unrestrained majority on the court."

The TERM Act would create something of a revolving door for the court. Long-serving justices would be bumped as new appointees are seated on the bench, but kept on retainer in case a vacancy opens up.

Under the proposed legislation, a president would be authorized to nominate a Supreme Court justice in the first and third years after a presidential election. In theory, a confirmed nominee could join the court every two years for a maximum of 18 years of regular active service.

WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - JUNE 25: Pro-life-abortion and abortion rights demonstrators gather in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 25, 2022. (Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Protestors outside the Supreme Court. Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty

After that, the bill would require current justices to "assume senior status."

The TERM Act would "preserve life tenure by ensuring that senior justices retired from regular active service continue to hold the office of Supreme Court justice, including official duties and compensation," according to a press release from Johnson's office that announced the bill.

Justices who've served the longest would also be required to assume senior status as regularly appointed justices receive their commissions, the announcement indicates.

If a justice steps down, dies, is disqualified, or must leave the bench for another reason that would cause the number of justices in active service to fall below nine, "the Supreme Court justice who most recently assumed senior status [will] fill in on the Court," according to the release.

Reps. Jerry Adler of New York, Sheila Jackson of Texas, Steve Cohen of Tennessee and California Reps. Karen Bass and Ro Khanna are co-sponsors of the bill.

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is introducing the legislation in the Senate.

"With all the harmful and out-of-touch rulings from the Supreme Court this last year, legislation creating 18-year terms for justices is essential," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement.

"Otherwise, we will be left with backwards-looking majority for a generation or more," Nadler continued. "Instead, under this bill, each President would be entitled to appoint two justices. We would begin to see a Court that better represents this nation and that better reflects the public whose rights it is responsible for protecting."

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