Should we institute term limits on Supreme Court justices or maintain lifetime appointments?

Explore all perspectives, stances, and arguments for and against Supreme Court term limits with AllStances by AllSides. 

Impose Supreme Court Term Limits

Term limits will ensure  the confirmation process is depoliticized and the court sees a consistent turnover of perspectives.

Keep Lifetime Appointments

Lifetime terms for the Supreme Court keep justices insulated from political pressure. 



The Supreme Court was established by the U.S. Constitution, under which justices are appointed for life. The founding fathers debated the power and the design of the Supreme Court. Federalist Alexander Hamilton viewed a strong Supreme Court with lifetime appointments as necessary to curb the harmful whims of the people. 

Lifetime term limits were designed with the intention that justices could not be swayed by politics or corruption if they held secure positions until their retirement. Some argue the opposite. However, this is juxtaposed by the increasing political polarization around Supreme Court appointments. The Senate confirmed Supreme Court Justice Sotomeyer in 2009 with a vote of 68-31. In 2023, Kentaji Brown Jackson was confirmed by a vote of 53 - 47, with only two republicans voting for her confirmation. 

Recent events, like Clarence Thomas’ undisclosed gifts from wealthy conservative donor Harlan Crow, have ignited calls from the left for term limits. This scandal compounded liberal and progressive resentment of the circumstances around the appointment of Kavanagh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Many see term limits as a way to disempower a Supreme Court that has become increasingly controlled by partisan influences. Others see term limits as a partisan power grab that will weaken constitutional protections in the long-term. 

Instead of the current process of a justice ​​being nominated, confirmed, and appointed for life, term limits would impose a maximum number of years one can serve. Some have proposed justices be limited to 18-year terms so a new member would be nominated in each odd year, giving presidents two nominees for each four-year executive term. 

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Stance 1: Impose Supreme Court Term Limits

Core argument: Term limits will ensure  the confirmation process is depoliticized and the court sees a consistent turnover of perspectives.


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Stance 2: Keep Lifetime Appointments

Core Argument: Lifetime terms for the Supreme Court keep justices insulated from political pressure.


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Glossary of Terms

Supreme Court: The highest court in the United States and the judicial branch of government where nine justices interpret and apply the constitution to various cases.

Term Limit: A limit on the amount of time an individual can be a Supreme Court justice

Lifetime Appointment: The unique term of a Supreme court justice being until they pass away or resign 

Legitimacy: the belief that the Supreme court has the authority and right to serve as the highest judicial body and the trust that the justices interpret the constitution competently

Statute: a law passed by a legislative body like Congress or a state legislature that is used by the Supreme court when deciding on a case that comes before them

Judicial Review: The idea that the Supreme court can strike down any law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional

Precedent: a previous ruling that sets a standard for subsequent decisions

Judiciary Act of 1789: the act that established judicial courts in the United States, signed into law by the first U.S. president, George Washington

Marbury v. Madison (1803): this case gave the Supreme court the power of judicial review

John Roberts: the chief justice of the Supreme court since 2005

Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme court justice, nominated by Barack Obama in 2009

Elena Kagan: Supreme court justice, nominated by Barack Obama in 2010

Antonin Scalia: Served on the Supreme court from 1986 to his death in 2016, succeeded by Neil Gorsuch

Neil Gorsuch: Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court justice who replaced Justice Antonin Scalia in a divided Senate

Clarence Thomas: Supreme court justice, nominated by George Bush in 1991

Brett Kavanaugh: Donald Trump’s second Supreme court justice who replaced the retiring justice Anthony Kennedy, barely appointed with only 50 votes in the senate after sexual assault allegations. 

Amy Coney Barrett: Donald Trump’s third Supreme court justice, replacing former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just one month before 2020 Election Day

Merrick Garland: Barack Obama’s appointee to the Supreme court that did not get appointed since the Senate never scheduled his process of initiation 

Kentaji Brown Jackson: Joe Biden’s first and only Supreme court justice whom has served on the court since 2022


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Developed by:

AllSides Editor-in-chief Henry A. Brechter (Center bias)

University of California-Riverside public policy students Divya Bharadwaj, Andrew Shannon, and Samuel Shroff (all Left bias)


Reviewed by:

Content Designer Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left bias)

Director of Marketing and Bias Ratings Julie Mastrine (Lean Right bias)