Tuesday, November 24, 2015

No Dinosaur Courts: amendment to end life time tenure of federal judges

Imagine a supreme court appointed by Woodrow Wilson, a confirmed racist. That is something we should imagine because such a gap between the court and the society at large is inevitable. Democracy demands we limit the terms of federal judges. We can do it now with a constitutional amendment or we can wait until the supreme court become intolerable and has to be undermined more completely in another way. We need to tame the court to save it.

Ray Kurzweil, now handing out billions in Google research and development grants, thinks we will conquer death. In the near future, we will live to be 200 hundred, 300 years old.

In that case, lifetime appointment of judges would mean we would have judges on the supreme court that were, to imagine the future scenario as if it occurred today, appointed by Woodrow Wilson, who supported the Klu Klux Klan.

That is one reason to amend the constitution to limit the terms of judges, say to 20 years. This reason won't matter until some time in the future, although the fact that we already live much longer than in 1790 when the constitution was written is relevant.

Another reason is that in the modern era judges are chose for their relative youth. A candidate has to be younger than 50 but with enough credentials to get through the senate. This limits the types of people who get on the bench, all lawyers, judges, ambitious from the start. Nothing wrong with the type per se but in the past we've had ex-presidents, people with a variety of experience. Like Bill Clinton: he would have been good. Or Barack Obama now. But he's too old.

Lastly, the supreme court has a history of making terrible decisions: gutting the civil rights amendments that followed the civil war, Dred Scott, Citizens United, shooting down the New Deal, Bush v. Gore 2000. We have hundreds of years of the supreme court doing more harm than good. They picked the worst president of the modern era and installed him on the throne. They said that northerns had to put up with slavery. They stopped progressive governments from trying to make society more fair with social welfare programs. And, occasionally, they made a few good decisions too.

If they were limited to 12 or 20 years, the amount of harm they could do would be limited. Like right now: rather than spending the time to get a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, why not put the energy into an amendment to limit the terms of judges. Then overturning Citizens United will happen in time, along with other changes.

Future dinosaur courts, like the one we have now, undermine the credibility of the court. If they become more and more out of step with their eras, more and more hold overs from the past, even now they are and this will get worse, then we will have to find a way to overrule the court, pack the court, something to stop the equivalent of Woodrow Wilson's appointees insisting that black and whites cannot marry, even as the president is mixed race.

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