Paul D. Carrington: Bring the Justices Back to Earth

Roundup: Historians' Take

Paul D. Carrington is a law professor at Duke.

The situation [on the Supreme Court] brings to mind a proposal voiced most prominently by Gov. Rick Perry during his run for the Republican presidential nomination: judicial term limits....

So why [not?]

One reason sometimes given is that Congress could not enact strict limits without amending Article III of the Constitution, which provides that justices hold office for the period of their “good behavior.” Long lives were uncommon in 1788, so the issue of prolonged service was not considered by the framers.

Instead, they simply borrowed the term “good behavior” from a law enacted by the English Parliament in 1701 to deter a king dissatisfied with a judicial decision from firing the judge who made it. Interestingly, that same Parliament has long since imposed age limits on its nation’s judges — as has virtually every national constitution written since 1789....

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