The Instigator
Con (against)
0 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
3 Points

U.S. Supreme Court Justices ought to have term limits.

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/19/2013 Category: Politics
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 17,697 times Debate No: 40844
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (7)
Votes (1)




First round is acceptance only.
BOP is shared.
No new arguments may be made in the final round.


I accept this debate, look forward to your arguments.

Kind Regards,
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for accepting my challenge

Pros Case

Point 1: Terms of good behaviour Promote non-partisanship.

Without the worry of reelection looming over the heads of supreme court justices, they have no incentive to appease any particular group in order to win support or votes. This helps remove political bias in the supreme court, therefore improving the quality of the decisions rendered. If Justices were required to serve on a basis of terms, then the justices would have to run campaigns and would want to pass decisions that they thought would keep them in office, not always what they truly found to be just.

Point 2: The current system provides a steady, static basis for justice

The purpose of the judicial system is to enforce law and the constitution. If those who interpret justice were constantly changing, then there would be no solid background for justice, and no consistency in what is considered constitutional or unconstitutional. The judicial branch is the foundation of American Justice, and the foundation must remain solid, only changing rarely, but always in good health.

Point 3: Maintains the checks and balances of the Government.

If justices were constantly up for reelection, the balance of power would be thrown off. power would either fall to the executive branch (as the president would be appointing the justices), to the legislative branch (as congress might elect new justices) or (if the people elected justices) power would simply drained from the judicial branch, upsetting the balance of power. A republican president could appoint too many republican justices with republican bias to unfairly further his/her agenda without any regard for justice. A democratically controlled congress could do similar in the second case.
The third case is, by far, the worst.
Judicial knowledge is the essential trait of an effective justice. Campaigns are almost never about a judges qualifications or education or experience, but rather, their message or political party. The appointment system allows experts to appoint judges with a proper background and thourough knowledge of the law. Popular election lends its self to sensationalist campaigning that isn't truly based on whether or not the judge would do a good job.
In Huntsville, AL, a new coroner was recently elected. The previous (who was very well qualified and served for YEARS) was removed from his office purely because law stated that the coroner had to be elected, and the incumbant coroner was a democrat (Alabama voters are majority republican). Although the coroner ought to be elected based on experience and knowledge, a good coroner was replaced with an ineffective coroner simply because partisan politics interefered.


Hi tylergraham95,

I thank you for starting the debate, and would like to formulate my argument here so as there remains no confusion on the issue.

My contention is that Supreme Court Justices should have a 15 year non-renewable term limit, the appointment would remain in the hands of the Elected President and the house could then determine what the required retirement age should be, whether that be 75 to 80.

Argument #1 l Why Fifteen Year Term Limits?

Currently our the Constitution of the United States lists this in regards to how long a Supreme Court Justice is to serve.

"The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."[1]

Aging and the Supreme Court

This "good behavior" has been interpreted to mean until death, resignation or removal from office via impeachment. Per Article III of the Constitution created in 1787, this has been in effect ever since and the ruling on this matter has not changed. However, a great many things have changed, for instance the average age has changed drastically since 1787.

Surely when you compare the average age of a Supreme Court Justice to a commoner in the late 1700s you will find a significant difference, but the average age of the first Supreme Court (made up of 5 Justices) was 69.4.[2] Which happens to be boosted by John Jay's unusually long life for that era, passing at 84 years old (more than double the average life expectancy).[3]

Now the Average age of a Supreme Court Justice is (considering the last 5 who passed) is at 87.8, a whole 18.4 years older than the average when the Constitution was originally written.[4] This is a concern because recent advancements in neuroscience have revealed that the brain deteriorates over time, which could feesibly result in the breakdown and loss of memories as well as other cognitive processes. Having a age limit and term limit, will keep the healtiest of judges in place.

Supreme Court Justices of Ole

Currently we have two Federal Judges, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy still in place from the Reagan Administration who appointed them, both being a Justice for over 25 years. This is simply too much power given to dead presidents. Supreme Court Justices, though not elected and appointed by an elected official, the President and then confirmed by Congress. They should then reflect the current political values of at least the last 15 years. With the average tenure being 26 years (used to be 15 prior to the Civil War), this has created a strange situation where we have ideologies from political administrations 30 years in the past, making rulings on present day issues. In order to more closely represent the interest of the people of the United States, it seems necessary to make this amendment to the Constitution to update this Article to more be in alignment with a government that represents the people of today, rather than 30 years ago.

Benefits and Other Accompanying Changes

I agree that our judicial system should remain consistent and 15 year terms are fairly long terms, yet shorter than is currently seen so as to provide the aforementioned proper representation. In order to also attract the best of our countries judicial system, we should have a scaling pay for Justices, relative to the cost of living at that particular time, as many are currently deterred by lower pay than their current job as an Attorney or Judge.

I also agree that judicial elections by the people themselves, where they had to run campaigns and the like would be very harmful to our judicial system but my contention does not require that with the addition of term limits.

Concluding Statements:

Due to the fact that my opponent seems to have argued against this motion with the inclusion of national relections for Supreme Court Justices, my contention of favoring an amendment which requires 15 year term limits with no renewal does not apply to any of his arguments. This is a very practical and logical change as with the change to the average age of the Justices and in order to more closely represent the interests of the people, this motion should be sustained.

Kind Regards,

[2] Ages were: 78, 56, 68, 61, 84
[4] Ages were: 81, 91, 91, 91, 85

Debate Round No. 2


I thank my opponent for his thoughtful reply.


Although in this debate I did not intend for my opponent to set forth a specific plan, I will accept his 15 year plan. I do stipulate, however, that this be the only change to the system that my opponent may argue from this point forth. I will assume that nothing about the system of the supreme court will change other than when a justice is appointed, they will serve a maximum of 15 years as a justice.


"Aging and the Supreme Court"

Although this argument regarding human life expectancy is interesting, the statistics regarding life expectancy at hand are HEAVILY skewed by infant mortality rates (1).

The point regarding the differences in average age are interesting as well, but my opponent cites no evidence to suggest that just because modern supreme court justices are older, that they are in some way, inferior.

Just because modern judges are older does NOT mean that they are inferior. Furthermore, I would like to point to the current chief justice who is actually the youngest chief justice to have served on the supreme court in history.

A benefit of older judges would be more life experience in the court system.

My opponent throws out the word "Neuroscience" but cites no expert in neuroscience that suggests that any justice in history has ever been found to be mentally unfit. Furthermore, my opponent cites no sources of judges found to be mentally unfit who ALSO remained a supreme court justice after being found so.

Furthermore, the current average age of a supreme court justice is currently 67 years, 11 months, not the average age of the oldest collection possible. (2)

"The Supreme Court of Ole"

My opponent claims that life tenures give too much power to the president. This point is nullified by the fact that the supreme court is not a partisan body of government. Furthermore, Justices are not in the court to further their political agenda. They serve to determine the legitimacy of legislature, and pass judgment on other matters, not forward their political ideologies.

My opponent also makes the claim that supreme court justices should reflect current ideals, not the ideals of 30 years ago. This point is confusing to me. Is my opponent unaware that usually people live much longer than 30 years? This point is also an exaggeration as the average tenure of a Supreme court justice is 25.5 years. Finally, only 2 of 9 are Reagan appointees, neither of which were particularly partisan before becoming justices. Furthermore, 4 of the 9 presidents have been elected within the past 7 years (2)

My final rebuttal regards my opponents claim that 15 year tenures would provide a steady bedrock for justice (which he agreed was necessary) but (as my opponent is no expert on the finer complexities of American government) cites no source at all to suggest that a 15 year tenure would be at all beneficial, furthermore, the 15 tenure limit would be detrimental to very young judges (who my opponent said would be superior because their ideals are more current). Young judges, like Chief Justice John Roberts, would be forced to retire from the court at the relatively young age of 65.


My opponents statistics are skewed, or irrelevant, and his plan would only weaken the judicial system and bedrock of American justice (see Con, point 2). His points are also rebutted by Con point 3. My opponents argument overall represents a lack of understanding of the purpose and design of the Supreme Court, and the plan he puts forward would, overall, harm the judicial branch without providing any real benefits. Furthermore, my opponent makes the bold claim that my points only regard a system that involves re-election, but this is not true. Although it does weaken Con Point 1, it leaves Points 2 and 3 unaffected.



Hi Tylergraham95,

Really interesting response, I'm happy we are able to discuss this in depth as I have actually never witnessed an extended debate on the issue.

Rebuttal #1 l Aging and the Supreme Court

It appears my opponent charges my statistics with being "HEAVILY skewed" (all caps were deemened necessary). However, did I even appeal to the overall life expectancy at the time?

I actually appealed to the ages of the first 5 Supreme Court Justices from the time of the ratification of the Constitution. Which is of course James Wilson, John Jay, William Cushing, John Blair Jr. and John Rutledge.[1] I also appealed to the last 5 Justices who in more recent years passed away as seen on that same list. I did this in order to more properly represent the difference and avoid a rebuttal such as the one you gave.

In regards to neuroscience, I was merely refering to the well established fact that one's brain deteriorates over time, even shrinking in size due to the thinning of the cortex.[2] This I believe is a non-controversial note and honestly not key to my argument, but seems to be standard across the board with other countries who have an established retirement age for their judges.

Rebuttal #2 l The Supreme Court of Ole

My opponent's argument on this matter seems to ignore the fact that PARTISAN individuals such as the President of the United States, is the one who appoints these Justices. To believe that the Supreme Court is a "non-partisan" body of government is simply to live in the theory, rather than reality. It is common knowledge that between the judges there are those who have more liberal or conservative leanings.[3]

The reason this is primarily a problem is that a President can select a young candidate for the Supreme Court Justice position, one who of course agrees with his political ideologies (or at least hopes or appears to). The president can then extend his direct influence through the selection of the Justice for the next 20 to 30 years, even after his death. This is entirely too much power to be held by the President, and this change would mitigate that effect as well as ensure that the best candidate is selected, because of their experience and not because the President wants to extend their influence for the next 30 years.

Also my opponent addressed that I did not provide any examples of experts on the matter that it weakens my case. I wanted to stand primarily on the merits of my own arguments rather than appealing to authorities, but since he has brought it up, here are a couple examples.

This was posted in the Harvard Journal of Law,

"This trend has led to significantly less frequent vacancies on the Court, which reduces the efficacy of the democratic check that the appointment process provides on the Court's membership. The increase in the longevity of Justices' tenure means that life tenure now guarantees a much longer tenure on the Court than was the case in 1789 or over most of our constitutional history. Moreover, the combination of less frequent vacancies and longer tenures of office means that when vacancies do arise, there is so much at stake that confirmation battles have become much more intense. Finally, as was detailed in a recent article by Professor David Garrow, the advanced age of some Supreme Court Justices has at times led to a problem of "mental decrepitude" on the Court, whereby some Justices have become physically or mentally unable to fulfill their duties during the final stages of their careers."[4]

Also, Paul Carrington, Professor of Law at Duke University proposed the same motion with the The Supreme Court Renewal Act of 2005. Here is a portion of his argument.

"Article III of the Constitution of the United States provides that judges of constitutional courts shall serve during “good behavior.” The purpose of that provision was to secure the independence of the federal judiciary from any efforts of others with political power to influence judicial decisions improperly. The term has often been assumed to mean that Supreme Court Justices may hold office until they resign, die or are removed for serious misfeasance. Our nation has greatly benefitted from the exceptional independence of the federal judiciary, but the independence principle does not require lifetime tenure for Justices. The conventional assumption has become unsound because of increases in our longevity and other changes that have increased the tenure of Justices."[5]

The truth of the matter is that there are many who would like to see this change made, the only problem is that Constitutional amendments are hard to pass therefore it would probably require a specific circumstance where the weakness of the present system is highlighted in order to drive the will of the people to have their representatives change it.

Concluding Remarks:

I find it odd that my opponent again chose to charge that my statistics are "skewed" or "irrelevnt." As the direct statistics I drew were from the Supreme Court Justices themselves, I cannot possibly fathom how my opponent came to this conclusion and therefore regards this as a fallacious straw man argument.

As has been demonstrated further, an implementation of term limits would limit the power of the executive branch, keep the healthiest and most qualified justices on the bench and ensure that the judicial branch is a relevant product of our government and not the product of an entirely different political atmosphere 25+ years ago.

Kind Regards,







Debate Round No. 3



Final round is for summary only. No new arguments. No new rebuttals. Dropped arguments cannot be rebutted. Any new arguments, or new rebuttals, should be ignored by judges, as debaters do not have a chance to address these arguments.

Final Focus

The Supreme court and non-partisanship

My opponent claims that justices are partisan to a degree. What I assume he means is that supreme court justices have political ideologies that can lean left or right. This is something unavoidable in any human. Everyone who is interested in justice and politics will of course of some political ideology. The difference in the supreme court is that it is not a powerful tool for a president to exercise power with, as I said earlier in round 3. The supreme court does not make active decisions, but rather, reactive decisions. When the constitutionality of a law is brought up, the supreme court reacts, and rules upon the matter, as I said in round 3.
15 year term limits will not reduce partisanship either, so term limits are not superior in this respect.

The supreme court and age

My opponent leaves my point regarding the current average age and youthfulness of the current chief justice un-rebutted. I forward this point. This point is dropped.

My opponent again claims that aging reduces brain capacity, but shows no evidence to show that the current elderly supreme court justices, or any supreme court justices for that matter, have ever been proved to have bad mental health while still holding office. This point was brought up earlier and left un-rebutted.

My opponent also points to other countries with retirement ages rather than term limits.

The supreme court and the bedrock of justice

My opponent left these points relatively un-rebutted. He agreed that law and justice require steady basis, I point that his system would weaken this basis, he does not rebut this. I forward that point as it is dropped.

The delicate checks and balances of government

My opponent left this point totally un-rebutted. It is dropped and I forward it.



Concluding Statements

Sorry I have been extremely busy and haven't been able to present all the information I initially wanted. I will briefly here conclude my argument and also address a couple of things my opponent said in this last round.

My opponent says that this power that it gives the president is really not all that substantial because the court makes reactive not active decisions. While this is true, those reactive decisions are THE LAST say on matters of Constitutionality and it's rulings have shaped our nation on an extremely deep level. The decision of a republican president to select a Supreme Court Justice with conservative political ideologies can now influence policies 30 years into the future. The whole purpose of the checks and balances system is to keep from having one political entity from having too much power. And keeping a Justice in his seat indefinitely grants too much power to the court itself (no oversight from Congress or the President except initially or in extreme circumstances) and too much power to the President (by extending influence decades into the future).

Partisanship is not the only issue the Court faces, but rather because we accept that the Justices do have political ideologies that influence their decisions, we should make it so that the current court has ideologies that properly represent the current political atmosphere by being appointed by more current representatives.

I find it strange that my opponent alleges that I left his point about the supreme court and age unrebutted. In round 3 it was my #1 Rebuttal and I addressed how his argument that my statistics on the matter were skewed by showing that argument had no basis and was a straw man. I also explained how the term limit is a common sense response to our knowledge about how the brain deteriorates with age. Setting an age limit at 80 years old, would be the intelligent response given the increase in life expectancy among Supreme Court Justices.

Please note that this was an additional point brought up by me, and the primary motion I am seeking to present is a term limit (which could even make the idea of a retirement age irrelevant).

To conclude, I submit that changes in the individual justices would not compromise the Supreme Court as the bedrock of justice in this country. Rather, it will bring balance to the disproportionate amount of power that has been granted to the Court and President in the Constitution. The realization that political ideologies are at play in every decision should make us realize that though in theory we wanted this to be a nonpartisan branch of the government, in reality it cannot be avoided. Limiting the terms of the individuals, will also then limit the amount of power that is now being granted to these individuals and protect current US interests.

Kind Regards,

Debate Round No. 4
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by xuinkrbin 4 years ago
I'm not understanding what problem Supreme Court term limits are supposed to solve? The fact Justices have been on the bench longer than 15 years? What is wrong with having a more traditional view of the constitution and the law held by some Justices and having a more contemporary view held by Others? Since America is a nation of People, Some with more traditional views and Some with more contemporary views, how is having a similar blend on the Supreme Court a bad thing? Is there a single decision made by the Supreme Court which neither by statute nor amendment can overturn but could have been overturned if term limits for Justices existed?
Posted by tylergraham95 4 years ago
I know that feeling. As a fellow student I know that sometimes 3 days isn't enough hahaha
Posted by TrueScotsman 4 years ago
Agreed, very enjoyable debate! Time constraints were an issue for me, but I hate forfeits and try to avoid them as much as I can.
Posted by tylergraham95 4 years ago
I meant to say in my final round
This was a VERY fun debate and I am glad I had such a great opponent to debate with. Thank you truescotsman for providing provocative and well thought arguments, and seeing this debate through. (Forfeits are just too common nowadays)
Posted by tylergraham95 4 years ago
Also I would like to lend a nod to your name, good sir.
Posted by tylergraham95 4 years ago
Yes I will be arguing against term limits.
Posted by TrueScotsman 4 years ago
To be clear, you are arguing that they should not have term limits? If so I will take up Pro.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by thett3 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: I vote Pro because of the impacts of neuroscience and the "presidents of ole". Pro didn't give any examples of bad decisions due to deteriorating brain power, but the point still stands. Con could've taken it out by saying a mandatory retirement age solves without a term limit, but he didn't. I think the more important impact was the impact old presidents have on current policy making due to justices serving for an extremely long time which can keep them from making policies in line with mainstream thought. I think Con could've easily won had he spent more time on his R1 impacts, specifically about insulating the judiciary from politics, but he mostly leaves them alone after R1 except a brief note in R4. I can't really vote on points that aren't major issues in round, and Pro may be onto something that term limits lessen their viability as dangers. Good debate.