Lifetime appointments are a bad idea.
A little more than three years ago, Gallup released the results of an important poll which went largely under-reported and unnoticed. It indicated that Americans’ confidence in federal judges had hit an all-time low, with only 53 percent of respondents indicating they had a fair amount of trust or more in them. It’s hard to imagine that recent events have bolstered that statistic.
In comparison, 55 percent to 60 percent of American colonists were likely either neutral or supportive of the British crown on July 4, 1776, when the Founders signed The Declaration of Independence. So, it appears that today’s federal judges enjoy about the same amount of popular support in America as King George III did at the time of the Revolution.
Further, when the Constitution was ratified in 1788, thereby giving federal judges their lifetime appointments (at least during times of “good behaviour”), the average life expectancy in our newfound republic may only have been 36 (and some may also argue that, for obvious reasons, any tyrant occupying a lifetime position in public office back then quite possibly could have expected to live nowhere near that long). In contrast, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will turn 86 next month.
But more important still, the lifetime appointment system simply hasn’t been working out. Perhaps it’s just human nature: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
So, it’s not exactly surprising that abuse of the lifetime appointment system, which by design all but absolves federal judges of personal responsibility for their actions both on and off the bench, seems far more common today than the supposed benefit to justify that system’s existence. The argument is that judges need protection from the capricious whims of politics and popular opinion in order to make unpopular yet legally — and morally-correct decisions.
Indeed, this insulation did not lead the U.S. Supreme Court to issue such a forward-looking ruling in favor of Dred Scott, the escaped slave who was ordered back into servitude after what is widely described as the worst decision in the highest court’s history. Nor does it seem to have led to the upholding today of the very simple, plain and obvious wording of the Second Amendment and the remainder of The Bill of Rights.
Indeed, if there’ve been such righteous and important federal court decisions for which we owe the job security currently afforded to federal judges, then unlike the Dred Scott decision, those rulings don’t seem to be included in the syllabi of American history classes nor in the voluminous texts on the subject.
Rather, what we see today is evidence of a pattern of bad behavior which is more than sufficient to indict and convict the current practice of making lifetime appointments.
For example, it seems that the current system for lodging complaints against federal judges is nothing more than a joke which federal judges ridicule, as one might expect from any such system which depends on bureaucrats to police themselves. Moreover, despite a lot of overtly-questionable if not obviously-crooked behavior, only 8 federal judges have ever been impeached by the House and then removed from the bench by the Senate in all of our nation’s history. So, it seems that the constitutional checks and balances on the power of federal judges are broken due to their lifetime appointments too.
So, what’s the solution? Well, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz proposing a groundbreaking constitutional amendment to enact term limits in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, it may also be a good moment to a put similar constitutional amendment on the agenda to limit the time federal judges can serve on the bench.
It’s worth a shot.
Further, we should add another rule barring anyone from being confirmed to the federal bench while they have a close family member in either the House, the Senate or the Oval Office.
Lifetime appointments and nepotism are for monarchies and dictatorships, not democratic republics.
Our current system of appointing federal judges for life is antiquated, undemocratic and, I dare say, very unsuccessful.
I am an Obama-era political prisoner and conservative journalist. For more information about me or to donate to help free me, please go to www.freemartyg.com or find me on Facebook.
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