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Term limits for federal judges?

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American Enterprise Institute's Norman J. Ornstein and Boston University Law Professor Ward Farnsworth are debating Ornstein's proposal that a constitutional amendment be passed for new judicial appointments to be subject to term limits. (Ironically, Ornstein is well-known for opposing legislative term limits.) This reader thinks that Farnsworth has the better of it so far:

You also say life tenure has made it too tempting for presidents to nominate young ideologues. Again the strength of the argument depends on the size of the problem, which we shouldn't work with vague impressions. How often do you imagine Clinton picked a judge he wouldn't have chosen without the temptation of life tenure? How about Bush? Who do you have in mind? I don't think that happens often on the courts of appeals, except when someone is being set up for a possible later appointment to the Supreme Court´┐Żand that setting-up process would probably still occur under your proposal.

If anything, your plan would make it easier to put ideologues on the bench, wouldn't it? Their terms would be shorter, so (if you're right) the incentive to oppose them would be reduced and they would be more likely to sail through the Senate. (In effect that's the point of your idea.) What's so great about that? The stakes in the current system put pressure on presidents to nominate moderate judges so as to avoid rancorous opposition. Usually they do, though the few more extreme ones get the attention in the press.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.