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
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
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 leaningsof 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
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.
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.
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.