Imagine a scenario in which a GOP-controlled Senate blocks a Democratic president’s 2025 and 2027 nominations. A Republican president is then elected in 2028 and the Senate confirms four nominees: in 2029 and 2031, to serve the regular 18-year terms, and for the two empty seats, with 14 and 16 years left on their terms, respectively. This could happen in every cycle of divided government, and would exacerbate, not lessen, the politicization of the confirmation process.
What’s more, if these 18-year terms had been around for the past few decades, the Court’s makeup would hardly be different; there would now be three George W. Bush appointees, four Barack Obama appointees, and two Donald Trump appointees. In the past 50 years, there have been 30 years of Republican presidents and 20 years of Democratic ones; if anything, liberal voices have been overrepresented on the Court. In other words, term limits wouldn’t change the ideological composition of the Court over time. Nor, for that matter, would they address the fundamental power that each justice wields, which is the reason we see such ferocious political battles every time a vacancy occurs.
There are also transition problems. Since term limits wouldn’t apply to sitting justices, for decades we would have term-limited justices serving alongside life-tenured ones.