Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Monday that he opposes term limits for federal judges ― his latest comment on what he would or wouldn’t do to the court system if elected president.
As part of his plan to create a commission to study the federal courts, Biden said he would look at how long justices serve on the Supreme Court. One reporter asked the former vice president if that meant he was open to term limits, to which Biden immediately shook his head and repeated: “No, no, no.”
“No,” he said. “It’s a lifetime appointment. I’m not going to attempt to change that at all.”
The candidate’s potential commission is “just a group of serious constitutional scholars with a number of ideas about how we should proceed from this point on,” he said. “And that’s what we’re going to be doing. I’m going to give them 180 days, God willing, if I’m elected, from the time I’m sworn in to be able to make such a recommendation.”
Many Democrats have called for judicial reforms, such as term limits and expanding the Supreme Court, particularly after President Donald Trump nominated 48-year-old Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Biden’s comment on term limits came the same day the Senate voted to confirm Barrett, which gives Republicans a 6-3 conservative majority on the highest court in the nation.
The Democratic candidate refuses to take a position on adding justices to the Supreme Court if elected president but has repeatedly said he will appoint a bipartisan commission to study judicial reforms. Biden has also been vocally against Trump and Republicans pushing Barrett through the GOP-controlled Senate just weeks before Election Day after refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in February 2016 because it was an election year.
″[I’d] put that commission together and have them do an analysis on what if any changes should take place in how the court functions, how it’s picked, how long you stay on the court,” Biden told reporters on Monday. “For example, there’s an idea put forward by one of the scholars out of Columbia [University] saying what you should do is you go on the Supreme Court for X number of years, and then you go to a Circuit Court, and someone from the Circuit Court goes to the Supreme Court.”
“There’s some literature among constitutional scholars about the possibility of going from one court to another court and not just always staying the whole time on the Supreme Court. But I have made no judgment,” Biden clarified.
But this clarification by Biden is essentially a description of a House bill Democrats introduced in September that would limit a justice’s time on the Supreme Court without interfering with their lifetime tenure within the larger federal judiciary. Biden’s transition co-chair, former Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), was a signatory to an Oct. 23 letter endorsing the bill.
The Supreme Court Term Limits and Regular Appointment Act, sponsored by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.), would institute regular appointments to the Supreme Court every two years, with new justices serving for nonrenewable 18-year terms. After that time is up, appointees would become “senior justices” who could temporarily rejoin the court if there were an unexpected vacancy.
That bill is the first attempt to create term limits via statute instead of a constitutional amendment. Article III of the Constitution allows Congress the authority to regulate the federal judiciary while also providing that federal judges will serve during “good behavior.” The phrase is widely regarded as requiring life tenure, and constitutional scholars are divided over whether Congress can limit that tenure solely via legislation.
Senate Republicans have confirmed hundreds of Trump’s mostly young white male lifetime judges in his first term, filling a staggering number of vacancies left after those same Republicans blocked Obama’s attempts to get nominees confirmed.