Where Supreme Court Justices have an age-restricted tenure in most democracies, it is not the same for the United States. The Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the president of the U.S. for a tenure that is lifelong. It means that the person appointed will remain on duty, unless situations like resignation, retirement or if removed from office due to any reason. Hence appointing someone in that position becomes one of the most important and difficult duties of the president of the country.
Michael Meltsner, a professor of law at Northeastern University, who also specializes in the Supreme Court, answers the question that why are Supreme Court Justices appointed for a lifetime in the U.S., unlike any other democracy. “That was put into the Constitution to preserve the total independence of the judiciary. Once justice is confirmed and takes a seat on the court, they’re not beholden to anybody,” he said. He also added that this measure intends to insulate justices from partisan politics.
With the change in life expectancy, the tenure of the Supreme Court justice also changes. Earlier, the life expectancy of white males (the only population that could hold a seat) was just below the age of 50. The recent data from the World Bank (2016) shows that the life expectancy of an average person in the United States is about 79 years. This data added three decades to the earlier existing tenure of the Supreme Court Justice. However, that does not give any reason to change the policy and reconsider the period of tenure of a person.
“It’s absolutely something that should be considered,” he said. “There should be a healthy discussion in which the pros and cons are considered, and hopefully in a non-political way.”
“The main policy consideration here is assuring that any new process doesn’t damage judicial independence,” said Meltsner.