General Question

tonedef's avatar

Is the Supreme Court broken?

Asked by tonedef (3935points) January 23rd, 2009

Does the lifetime tenure and appointment process of a Supreme Court justice hamper that court’s ability to effectively and fairly weigh questions of law against the constitution?

As it stands now, the justices who lean a different way politically than the President hang on for dear life, waiting to retire until their appointed successor will be “safe”.

Presidents who violate the constitution left and right can appoint judges who play fast and loose with the document, and this poor ability to interpret the constitution is institutionalized through the next generation.

The Supreme Court seems like a half-baked idea. Like the founding fathers ran out of steam after the Great Compromise, and just couldn’t design a better system?

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12 Answers

cheebdragon's avatar

Welcome to America.

robmandu's avatar

I highly recommend reading The Federalist Papers… which should be required reading for all Americans.

cheebdragon's avatar

I ♡lurve♡ robmandu

robmandu's avatar

awwww… shucks (kicks the dirt with his foot).

Harp's avatar

All the problems you mention are valid, but alternatives are at least as troubling.

Shortening the terms would accelerate the turnover of positions, but there’s no reason to think that this would create a less ideological court. There is, I think, value in long terms for the justices, in that it enhances the Court’s institutional memory and lends stability. Of the three branches of government, the Court needs to be the least variable in the way it carries out its business. While the other branches are designed to be responsive to the variable winds of popular opinion, the Court’s role is to act as a buffer to those swings using the constitution as its anchor. It must always be very difficult to alter the Court.

Above all, the Court has to be insulated from being beholden to anyone in the other branches. The thought of how their actions will please or displease the President must never be a consideration for the justices. We’ve seen in the past justices who were appointed by a conservative President side with more liberal causes once in the court, and the contrary will no doubt also take place. Their independence allows them that possibility, and the odds are that things will balance out over time.

Maybe I’m overlooking some wonderful tweak that would ensure that justices will set ideology aside (assuming that such a thing is even possible), but I think the current system may be as good as we can hope for.

tonedef's avatar

Yeah, I guess the ideal of a completely depoliticized government entity is really an impossibility, since someone has to put justices in power one way or another.

(And the federalist paper regarding appointment and tenure of the supreme court is here)

laureth's avatar

The lifetime term assures that the judges won’t be thinking of what they need to do to get re-elected. It’s supposed to help them concentrate on doing their job.

There are times when even a judge that’s appointed because he fits the President’s ideology does his job differently than the President expected. Eisenhower nominated Warren who put the Civil Rights movement to the forefront – probably not what ol’ Dwight had in mind.

Mizuki's avatar


IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

1) Alito
2) Roberts
3) Thomas

Yeah. I’d say it’s broken.

Mizuki's avatar

you forgot Antonin Gregory Scalia

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@Mizuki, Scalia is decidedly a conservative, but he is independently so, not just an ideological nincompoop like the justices I mentioned. His opinions are brilliantly rendered, and even though we may not agree with him, you can understand where he’s coming from.

His independence, however, is probably the reason Bush passed him over for CJ when Rehnquist died. The job should have gone to him, but Bush wanted someone controlled by the right. Scalia is controlled by Scalia.

Rude_Bear's avatar

I strongly disagree with the premise of your question. The Supreme Court, as it stands now, is a vital component of the balance of powers between the three branches of Government.

Yes, the President does appoint the Justices, but only with the approval of the Congress. Yes Congress can pass laws, but the court interprets them and weighs them against the constitution… Yes, the Justices are appointed for life, but there are nine of them so their power is divided… To adjust/amend/augment or diminish the power of the Court would disrupt the delicate balance.

The point of having lifetime appointments is to remove the need to appeal to the masses. The justices don’t need to pander for re-election so they are free to do what is right and not worry about what is popular.

Beyond all that, I am always suspect of people who wish to change the court. I’ve heard the “Unelected judges are legislating from the bench” song far to often, and usually from right wing extremists.

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