Beginning in the early 2000s, a number of legal academicians from across the political spectrum proposed eliminating life tenure for some or all Article III judges and replacing it with a term of years (or a set of renewable terms). These scholars were largely in agreement such a change could be accomplished only by a formal constitutional amendment of Article III. In this Article, Dow and Mehta agree with the desirability of doing away with life tenure but argue such a change can be accomplished by ordinary legislation, without the need for formal amendment. Drawing on both originalism and formalism, Dow and Mehta begin by observing that the constitutional text does not expressly provide for lifetime tenure; rather, it states that judges shall hold their office during good behavior. The good behavior criterion, however, was not intended to create judicial sinecures for 20 or 30 years, but instead aimed at safeguarding judicial independence from the political branches. By measuring both the length of judicial tenure among Supreme Court justices, as well as voting behavior on the Supreme Court, Dow and Mehta conclude that, in fact, life tenure has proven inconsistent with judicial independence. They maintain that the Framers’ objective of insuring judicial independence is best achieved by term limits for Supreme Court justices.
David R. Dow & Sanat Mehta, Does Eliminating Life Tenure For Article Iii Judges Require A Constitutional Amendment?, 16 Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy 89 (2021)
Available at: https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/djclpp/vol16/iss1/4