WASHINGTON Most Americans would support imposing
a term limit on the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices, who now
serve for life, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll has found in the
aftermath of major rulings by the court on Obamacare and gay
Limiting terms would be difficult, requiring an amendment to
the U.S. Constitution. Congress shows no signs of taking up the
idea, though Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz has
suggested the possibility of justices being voted out of office.
Support for the 10-year term limit proposed by the poll was
bipartisan, with 66 percent saying they favored such a change
while 17 percent supported life tenure.
The two big rulings in June were widely welcomed by
liberals. Nevertheless, 66 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of
Republicans and 68 percent of independents said they favored the
10-year term limit idea, according to the poll.
Respondents were not asked their preference on how long the
justices' terms should last. Over the years, legal experts have
debated 8-, 10-, 14- and 18-year limits.
The poll showed broad understanding of the court, with 68
percent saying they knew justices are appointed, not elected,
and 60 percent saying they knew the appointments are for life.
Under the Constitution, presidents appoint the justices
subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate, a process only 32
percent of respondents backed. Forty-eight percent said justices
should be elected.
There was little support in the poll for tinkering with the
court's role as the final arbiter of U.S. law. Only 29 percent
said they would support allowing Congress or the president to
overrule court decisions.
HIGH COURT CLOUT
The poll was conducted after the court in June legalized
same-sex marriage nationwide and rejected a conservative group's
challenge to Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare law,
drawing renewed attention to the high court's clout.
The court can decide what rights Americans have, and it can
strike down laws passed by Congress if they are deemed to
violate the Constitution.
Since its founding in 1789, the court has tackled the
country's most divisive issues, ranging from property rights and
slavery to racial segregation and abortion. Both the same-sex
marriage and Obamacare rulings, decided by majorities of 5-4 and
6-3 respectively, were highly unpopular among Republicans. The
party's 2016 presidential hopefuls roundly condemned them.
After the rulings, Cruz said the court had "crossed from the
realm of activism into the arena of oligarchy." He said justices
should face periodic retention elections, as many U.S. states
require for their state-level high courts.
More than 80 percent of respondents who said they identified
strongly with the conservative Tea Party movement said they
would favor the 10-year term limit.
A nonpartisan advocacy group called Fix the Court wants
justices to voluntarily step down after 18 years. Chief Justice
John Roberts marks a decade in office in September. Of his eight
colleagues, five have served for more than 20 years while the
other three were appointed in the last decade.
"It's not surprising that Supreme Court terms limits are
supported across party lines since, as a nation, we've always
felt it's wrong for a handful of individuals to hold on to
immense power for decades on end, as is the current trend at the
high court," said Gabe Roth, Fix the Court's executive director.
Of the nine justices, five were appointed by Republican
presidents and four by Democrats. The longest serving sitting
justice is Antonin Scalia, appointed by President Ronald Reagan
To take effect, a constitutional amendment must go through
an adoption and ratification process requiring overwhelming
support of Congress and the states. The last amendment ratified
was the 27th in 1992. It prevents members of Congress from
giving themselves pay raises during current sessions.
The poll was conducted between July 10 and July 17 among
1,611 people. Reuters/Ipsos online polls are measured with a
credibility interval. Among all respondents, the Supreme Court
poll had an overall credibility interval of plus or minus 2.8