Thursday, August 25, 2005

Steven Hill on federal judges, lifetime appointment and a better Supreme Court

My friend Steve Hill of the New America Foundation has a well-researched op-ed on lifetime appointment of federal judges here in the Denver Post.

He calls for term limits, mandatory retirement ages, higher confirmation thresholds to require bipartisan appointments and multiple appointment institutions to create a more representative and somewhat counter-intuitively, less partisan judiciary.

Here are some nuggets:

High-court justices in Germany are limited to 12-year terms, and in France, Italy and Spain 9-year terms. There's American precedent, with judges on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims limited to 15-year terms. Also, members of the Federal Reserve Board, shielded from politics because they oversee the nation's economy, serve 14-year terms, with Chairman Alan Greenspan appointed for a four-year term.


In France, Germany and Italy, no single person or institution has a monopoly on appointments to the constitutional court. In Spain, four judges are appointed by the upper house, four by the lower house, two by the government, and two by a judges' council.
Bipartisan appointments also hold promise. The Senate might review only nominees proposed through a bipartisan selection procedure. As a step in that direction, one option is to require a confirmation vote of 60 senators instead of a simple majority. Since no one party

In 2004, Democratic senatorial candidates won more than 51 percent of the votes cast, yet Republicans won 19 of 34 (56 percent) contested seats. So the minority party holds a majority of Senate seats.


This GOP overrepresentation [in the Senate] is due to Republican success in low-population, conservative states in the West and South that have the same representation - two senators per state - as high-population states like California. The 52 senators confirming Clarence Thomas in 1991 represented only 48.6 percent of the nation's population, showing that senators representing a minority of voters can confirm a justice for life. A body as unrepresentative as the Senate should not be confirming lifetime appointments, especially by simple majority vote.


I know a lot of people have this instinct not to 'mess with' the Constitution, but that's a pathetic attitude for any citizen to take. It's suggesting that the citizenry of the late 18th century were somehow so much smarter and wise than the current citizenry that we would be foolish to amend their product.

I hope that pathetic attitude doesn't cause people to vote no on the 2008 ballot for an Illinois Constitutional Convention. We should review our constitution every twenty years -- state *and* federal. Because there are always better ways of running our government.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

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Lazerlou said...

More important would be to get our State Supreme Court justices appointed rather than elected. Politics has permeated the IL supremem court and that is a very very bad thing. Far worse than lifetime appointments.

And Dan, preserving the right to filibuster is a very important thing.

Did you read Sunstein's piece in Harpers on the Court? It is excellent.

Extreme Wisdom said...


I'll see your 'reforms' and raise you a clause the allows for an automatic 66% threshold (by national plebiscite) for an override of the Sup. Ct.


Your point about Senate seats is weak. The idea was that the House represents the People and the Senate represents the States (as distinct from the people).

This point is lost on most who are clueless as to the framers set up of the Constitution.

Alaska gets 2 Senate seats (just like NY) because it is a STATE.

I enjoy your lawyerly skill in arguing in the alternative. If you support a Minority protection, then it must be defended to the death. (filibuster)

If you don't support it (in the form of Senate Seats), by golly, let's change the constitution.

What next, government by polling data?


I'm with you on an IL convention. With the most "pro-Government" constitution of the 50 states, the current one has got to go.

Nathan Kaufman said...

This URL should take you to Prof DeLong's blog and his input on Rehnquist. What is your perspective on this?