Thousands of years ago, when those guys were writing the US Constitution, they intended for the judiciary to be a non-political branch, to the extent that was possible. At least I think that’s what they intended. They fixed it so the judges would be appointed, not elected. They forced the chief executive to get consent from elected representatives of the several states before he could appoint somebody, so he couldn’t just put his drinking buddies up there.
Since they weren’t elected, it was very important that judicial appointments be filled with serious people who could do their jobs without referring to their own political opinions. They had to follow the law as written, and the Constitution, period. Sure, the political branches of government could always be taken over by one party, who might try to impose their cruel whims on the minority. But not the judiciary. They were supposed to be immune to that kind of crap.
But once you found people like that, and installed them on the bench, you were pretty much done. You could count on them to rule in an apolitical, unbiased way for the rest of their lives. After all, if their only source material is the law and the Constitution, why worry that they’ll be compromised by such base concerns as public opinion, or their own ambitions? And the public can always be confident that they’ll be fair, right? Why bother rotating them out of the position unless they died?
It would be really nice if things worked the way they were supposed to, and the judiciary remained above all the political stuff. But that’s over. There are now competing interpretations of the Constitution, aligned purely with politics. There are “liberal judges” and “conservative judges.” There are people eligible to be appointed to the bench by Republican presidents, and people eligible to be appointed to the bench by Democratic presidents. There are “swing justices.”
Swing justices? If George Washington were alive today, you know what he would say? “What the fuck is a swing justice?”
So, now that the “apolitical judiciary” ship has sailed away never to return, is it time to appoint judges for predetermined periods, rather than lifetimes?
Let’s say the new term is ten years. We could do it in the same amendment where we get rid of the Electoral College.
I don’t like this idea, because it’s doubling down on the “Red America vs. Blue America” style of running the country. But if we’re doing that anyway, term-limited judgeships is a concept more consistent with that philosophy. Fight me.