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Purpose of Lifetime Appointment and Pros and Cons

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The Constitution provides for the lifetime appointment of every Supreme Court Justice, though not through any direct language. Instead, the document addresses the ability of Court Justices to hold office "during good Behavior" and does not provide for the necessity that a Court Justice resign after a certain age or period of service. This lack of a term limit was first implemented during the tenure of John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice, to indicate that Court Justices could remain on the bench for the remainder of their lives, as did Marshall. Though the requirement for "good behavior" presents the one exception to the lifetime term of a Court Justice, as can be implemented in law through Congressional impeachment, this option is rarely used and not often seriously considered. The single instance of this happening, the impeachment of Samuel Chase in 1805, ended with the Congressional determination that the move was purely political and lacked acceptable grounds for proceeding. The basic purpose of lifetime appointment is to assure the integrity of the power granted to Court Justices and protect them against unwarranted interference from either the legislative or executive branch. The express and implicit separation of the Supreme Court from the other branches of Government is therefore upheld. In accordance with the principle of providing checks and balances, the executive and legislative branches exercise control over the Supreme Court by, respectively, proposing and approving candidates for that body. In the highly politicized atmosphere which has long attended the nominally apolitical arena of Court Justices, Presidents often attempt to buttress their agendas by selecting Court Justice nominees favorable toward their views. At times, however, the judicial leanings of Court Justices prove different in practice than they had previously appeared. The policy of lifetime appointment, therefore, secures a Court Justice against "retribution" for decisions going against the wishes of his or her Presidential sponsor. In this regard, proponents have cited Alexander Hamilton's declaration in the Federalist Papers that "nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office". Various concerns have also been raised about the ways in which lifetime appointment impinges on the office of Supreme Court Justices. One concern is that this policy encourages the Supreme Court to be dominated by thinking better fitted to the formative years of the Court Justices than to the present-day conditions of the United States. In this view, the Supreme Court would be better served by more frequent turnover in its membership. Another issue that has been raised is of the mental capacities of a Supreme Court Justice becoming diminished with age. This possibility could not conceivably fall under the purview of the requirement for "good Behavior" and at present is not provided for under U.S. law. Criticisms of the general policy of lifetime appointment has also been stoked by the criticism of specific Supreme court Justices and of the Court's culture in general for moving toward a more legislative, politicized function, which critics might find less problematic if offenders did not remain on the bench for so long.
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  • Purpose Of Lifetime Appointment And Pros And Cons

    The Constitution provides for the lifetime appointment of every Supreme Court Justice, though not through any direct language. Instead, the document addresses the ability of Court Justices to hold office "during good Behavior" and does not provide for the necessity that a Court Justice resign after a certain age or period of service. This lack of a term limit was first implemented during the tenure of John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice, to indicate that Court Justices could remain on the bench for the remainder of their lives, as did Marshall.

    Though the requirement for "good behavior" presents the one exception to the lifetime term of a Court Justice, as can be implemented in law through Congressional impeachment, this option is rarely used and not often seriously considered. The single instance of this happening, the impeachment of Samuel Chase in 1805, ended with the Congressional determination that the move was purely political and lacked acceptable grounds for proceeding.


    The basic purpose of lifetime appointment is to assure the integrity of the power granted to Court Justices and protect them against unwarranted interference from either the legislative or executive branch. The express and implicit separation of the Supreme Court from the other branches of Government is therefore upheld. In accordance with the principle of providing checks and balances, the executive and legislative branches exercise control over the Supreme Court by, respectively, proposing and approving candidates for that body.

    In the highly politicized atmosphere which has long attended the nominally apolitical arena of Court Justices, Presidents often attempt to buttress their agendas by selecting Court Justice nominees favorable toward their views. At times, however, the judicial leanings of Court Justices prove different in practice than they had previously appeared. The policy of lifetime appointment, therefore, secures a Court Justice against "retribution" for decisions going against the wishes of his or her Presidential sponsor. In this regard, proponents have cited Alexander Hamilton's declaration in the Federalist Papers that "nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office".

    Various concerns have also been raised about the ways in which lifetime appointment impinges on the office of Supreme Court Justices. One concern is that this policy encourages the Supreme Court to be dominated by thinking better fitted to the formative years of the Court Justices than to the present-day conditions of the United States. In this view, the Supreme Court would be better served by more frequent turnover in its membership.

    Another issue that has been raised is of the mental capacities of a Supreme Court Justice becoming diminished with age. This possibility could not conceivably fall under the purview of the requirement for "good Behavior" and at present is not provided for under U.S. law.

    Criticisms of the general policy of lifetime appointment has also been stoked by the criticism of specific Supreme court Justices and of the Court's culture in general for moving toward a more legislative, politicized function, which critics might find less problematic if offenders did not remain on the bench for so long.

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