When it comes to Social Security and Medicare, there's no shortage of pundits willing to tell me that the promises the government made to us in the past can no longer be kept because people are living longer, healthier lives than they used to. These arguments tend to be bogus because they ignore the fact that lifespans have increased, in part, because infant mortality is down.
But there's one group of people who are certainly living longer, healthier lives than they were back when the nation was founded -- the influential, rich and powerful justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, who have unfettered access to the best health care in the world along with jobs that ain't exactly coal mining when it comes to the toll taken on the body. This is why in my Daily column today, I argue for term limits on Supreme Court justices.
The average tenure for Supreme Court justices has climbed to 26 years, from 15 before 1970. John Roberts, a young man, could preside over the court for four decades or more, if he proves to have John Paul Stephens-like stamina.
I get that we want to insulate the justices from politics, but we also want to insulate the Governors of the Federal Reserve system from politics and they serve limited terms. Ben Bernanke even had to argue for his own reappointment. It's not as if he's lost control of the Fed to the whims of populist outrage as a result.
Besides, the Justices are anything but "removed from politics," as Antonin Scalia's gleeful grilling of the Administration's lawyer in the ACA case reveals.
More frequent appointments will change the makeup of the court more often and stop decade-long swings in political preference. It would moderate the court the way frequent elections moderates the presidency.
Lifetime judicial appointments are not the norm, by the way, in other developed countries with functioning democracies. But, hey, neither is the frequent use of the death penalty and a lack of access to affordable health care, so maybe we just want to continue to let our freak flag fly?
Another thing... we should de-professionalize the court. The idea that somebody should have been a federal judge or a career judge to sit on the high court is ridiculous and something the Founders never intended. Why not fill the court with some legal professionals but also some public intellectuals, former governors or even scientists or ethicists?
I hate to burst everybody's bubble but the Constitution is a short document, written in plain language. It's something that any interested citizen can read and grapple with. It doesn't even take long to read. The Cato Institute once gave me a copy of the Constitution, with all amendments, that can fit in your back pocket! A lifetime of devotion to the study of this document might well obfuscate more than it clarifies. The way I see it, most of the big issues in front of the court are not so much Constitutionally complex as they are ethically complex. Richard Rorty might have a lot more useful things to say than Roberts in any event. Does anyone really believe that Clarence Thomas is the height of the American intellect?
In short, I think we can do a much better job with the court than we've been doing.