The United States Supreme Court is the only federal institution not to have undergone any structural or functional revision in its entire 226-year history. That fact alone should give us Americans great pause, particularly given the Court’s increasing influence of American life.
As the Court’s new term began last week, one of the Court’s primary critics,Erwin Chemerinsky, who wrote a book called The Case Against the Supreme Court, renewed his call for significant reform. Chief among his suggestions:
- instituting merit-based selection of judges, beginning with a bipartisan panel that would present a list of candidates from which the President would then make his or her selection;
- reforming the confirmation process in some unspecified way;
- establishing term limits for justices (which would require a Constitutional amendment, of course);
- requiring that SCOTUS justices comply with all the same ethical standards as other Federal court justices (and presumably subject them to the same penalties for their violation, including removal from the bench).
Other than the vagueness of the second suggestion, I’m in favor of all of these steps on some level.
However, I feel like I should also remind my Liberal brethren that back in the day when Earl Warren ran the Court, the Right was sputtering furious at him for his liberal, activist decisions. “Impeach Earl Warren” was a real — and large — national movement. It will be a long, long time before there’s any chance of a Liberal court again in our history and perhaps that fact alone mitigates in favor of instituting some reforms to prevent its horrendous excesses.
In a column in today’s LA Times, Chemerinsky, who is Dean of the UC-Irvine School of Law, offered the most blanket and damning indictment of the Court I’ve ever read as an amateur Court Watcher:
I wish I could say that last year was an aberration. But, over the course of American history, the court has repeatedly failed at its most important tasks and at the most important times.
He and I have the same view of the Court so it’s not surprising I’d agree with him. But if you read that piece (and if you’re a Court aficionado, I highly recommend it), even if you are farther to the right than I am, I think you’ll agree that there is cause for alarm.