Featured US History and Constitution
Bethanne Kim  

Supreme Court Justices

We all like to believe that justice is blind, meaning it it not influenced by anything but the facts presented to it, and that judges are wise and impartial. Above all, we hope for this from our Supreme Court. Yet, we also know that the Justices are human, and they are chosen and confirmed by politicians. Politicians are not impartial. They choose people they believe will uphold the same things they believe are important.

Do you think politicians look for judges who will be as impartial as possible, or do you think they favor someone who will favor their views? How do you think the personal beliefs of the Justices impact their decisions?

Supreme Court Justices do not have term limits, nor do they have a mandatory retirement age. Most do not retire if the current President holds beliefs that are very different from their own because they know he will nominate someone with a set of beliefs similar to his own. And that person will be there for decades. Instead, they remain in office until a President who shares their views is elected.

Do you think it’s good for the country that their are no term limits or mandatory retirement for Justices? How is it good, and how might the system be improved? What would be required to change it?  Can Congress pass a law to change terms or retirement for Justices, or is a Constitutional Amendment required? If you believe Congress can pass a law, what do you think will happen if that law is brought before the Supreme Court? Will they be likely to uphold it or to find it unconstitutional?

Under Article 2, Section 2 of the US Constitution, the President “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to…appoint …Judges of the supreme Court.” Both the Executive and Legislative Branches must agree on appointments for the third branch, the Judicial.  Once the President chooses his nominee, he must submit them to the Senate for approval. If the Senate is dominated by people with similar beliefs to the President (generally meaning by his own party), then he can choose a more partisan nominee and still have a good chance of getting them approved. Since 1868, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reviewed all nominees before sending them to the full Senate for full vote.

Why do you think the other two branches are both involved in selecting Justices? How is this helpful, or how does it hurt, the process? Why do you think it is the Senate, not the House or both houses, that must approve nominees?

The next time people are talking about judges and politics, what question will you bring to the conversation?

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Survival Skills for All Ages (series)

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