INTRO MUSIC : “Justice” by Ziggy Marley
Philip Blumel: Term limits for Supreme Court justices..? Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement, for the week of May 6, 2019.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Under Article Three of the U.S. Constitution, justices on our highest court serve for life, assuming good behavior. Nearly every other high court on the planet has moved to a system of age limits, or term limits, or both. Is it time for the U.S. to follow suit? And how likely is that to actually happen? Nick Tomboulides, executive director of U.S. Term Limits, has all the answers as usual. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey, Phil.
Philip Blumel: So last week, we heard from Andrew Yang, Democratic presidential candidate, who is talking about term limiting Supreme Court justices, and of course, we’ve heard this story from quite a few of the presidential candidates now, and current activists, in fact, it’s really becoming sort of a consensus, at least on the Democratic side, that something needs to be done and that term limits might be that thing.
Philip Blumel: I’ve been slow to warm up to this idea. It’s not that I’m against it, and in fact, I’m for it. But it’s just that, when you and I talk about term limits for legislatures, Congress in particular, we’re trying to improve representation, to improve competition in elections, to basically give people more access to the process, all these things that simply do not apply to the Supreme Court.
Philip Blumel: And so it hasn’t been of tremendous interest to me, even though I’m vaguely for it, and I can see some benefits. But with this public interest in the subject, I’ve really started spending more time thinking about it, and warming up to the idea, and I’m in favor of it. How about you?
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, I am, absolutely. And there are some political motivations, I think, behind many of the folks who have come out for it in recent weeks. We don’t care about political considerations here. We are the sanctuary from partisan politics. The question we ask is whether this is a good policy. You mentioned that there are no elections for Supreme Court justices. I think that actually underscores the reasons why this is needed.
Nick Tomboulides: Thomas Jefferson, very start of our country, said that, “Members of the judiciary have the same passions for party, the same passions for power, and for privilege, as elected officials, but their power is more dangerous because they are in office for life.” Obviously, he couldn’t conceive at that moment of a Congress that would also be in office for life. So we have both at this point.
Nick Tomboulides: But the question that I ask is, do you think any government official should be able to hold power for life? In a Democratic republic, the obvious answer, to me, is no. Lifetime power is a bad idea to begin with, that’s what Congress has taught us. It breeds arrogance, corruption, irresponsible behavior. But when you combine lifetime power with a lack of checks and balances, then you get a very dangerous cocktail, and that is exactly what we have with the Supreme Court.
Philip Blumel: Theoretically, they could be impeached. The last impeachment of a Supreme Court justice was in 1804, Samuel Chase. The uproar that that caused, because it was based largely on political aspects more than terrible behavior, really made that possibility a dead letter for basically all of our history.
Philip Blumel: So we have these people that are completely uncheckable and in office for their entire lives. And the rest of the world has moved on from this. This wasn’t our idea, to give our high court lifetime tenure. All of Europe has moved to either age limits or term limits, or both. We are alone.
Nick Tomboulides: You don’t even need to go to Europe. Most states have age limits for judges. Here in Florida, where we live, you can’t serve as a judge, you can’t run for judge again if you’ve already turned 75. We actually have an age limit here. So it’s already in the United States, you don’t even need to go to Europe.
Philip Blumel: Oh, now, it’s true, in fact, every state in the United States has either an age limit, term limit, or at least a retention election that puts some kind of check on the Supreme Court, except for one. Do you know which one that is?
Nick Tomboulides: No, I don’t.
Philip Blumel: It’s Rhode Island.
Nick Tomboulides: Oh, okay. The one judge in Rhode Island doesn’t have retention elections?
Philip Blumel: Right. Right.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s really kind of had the opposite of its intended effect. The intent was, if the judges can be in power for life, they’re going to be independent, and they’re going to be insulated from politics. Instead, they’ve become more political, and I think both sides would agree with this, and they’re kind of insulated from the Constitution, not insulated from politics.
Nick Tomboulides: And we don’t get the judicial hearings we deserve. Just as the process of elections for Congress is broken, the process of nominations for judges is broken. What we get are these disgraceful, partisan circuses that would make P.T. Barnum look like a piker. One side is convinced the nominee is the devil incarnate, the other side is convinced he or she can do no wrong. No sane person can look at that and say that it’s working.
Philip Blumel: That’s a very good point, and the politicization is quite real. The most common proposal out there is for an 18 year term limit for justices, which is a long time, which definitely insulates them and allows them to be independent, but at the same time, also schedules when they end, and would make it so that each President received two appointments to the Supreme Court in their first and third term.
Philip Blumel: So you wouldn’t have any more of that trying to game the retirement so that you can affect the makeup of the Court after you leave. That is something that term limits would absolutely cure.
Scott Tillman: Hello, this is Scott Tillman, the national field director with U.S. Term Limits, and I have an update on our legislation in Washington, D.C. This week, three new co-sponsors joined. Arizona senator Martha McSally, and Missouri senator Josh Hawley, joined 13 other senators as co-sponsors on Ted Cruz’s Senate term limits resolution, SJR1.
Scott Tillman: David Schweikert, Congressman from Arizona’s sixth Congressional district, co-sponsored Francis Rooney’s term limits resolution, HJR20. HJR20 now has 37 co-sponsors and sponsors in the U.S. House. These resolutions place three House and two Senate term limits on Congress members. Please contact your Senators and representatives and ask them to co-sponsor SJR1 and HJR20.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s to say nothing, by the way, of the impact that being old and powerful can have on your brain. We’ve cited this on the podcast before. There was a guy at Harvard, David Laibson, he said, “Half of all people in their 80s can’t make major financial decisions due to dementia.” There are two people in their 80s on the Court now.
Nick Tomboulides: There was a study from Berkeley, showed people who hold power for too long have the same psychological effects as someone who’s been in a traumatic accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Old age can cause decline, power can cause brain damage, I think we’re taking a tremendous risk by allowing life tenure for Congress and for the Supreme Court.
Philip Blumel: Oh, we are. And we’ve seen it, and we’ll see it more. Because if you think about the job of being a Supreme Court justice, it actually is something that’s very comfortable for an older person to do. That is, from their point of view. First of all, it’s a nice office. There’s actually not a tremendous workload.
Philip Blumel: You get three and a half months off in summer time. And of course, we’ve talked about lifetime tenure, and no reduction of pay by law. You get four law clerks to help you out. You can coast and last in that job until you are carted off, and that is what we have been seeing in many cases.
Philip Blumel: There was two things, I think, that really convinced me that Supreme Court term limits were a good idea. When I first heard the idea of having each President getting two, so that takes a lot of the politics out of that, that really, I found, was very powerful to me. And the second thing was brought to my attention by that talk show host, Mark Levin, who has a book about article five and all these amendments that he’d love to see added to the Constitution.
Philip Blumel: Well, I’m not a huge fan of Mark Levin, to be honest with you, but he had a list of cases of Supreme Court justices that were problematic, and I didn’t really realize this existed. People that had gone insane, people that had Alzheimer’s, yeah. And most recently, and the one that we’re probably most familiar with, is Thurgood Marshall, in his waning years, he apparently spent many hours in his chambers watching TV.
Nick Tomboulides: That sounds like fun.
Philip Blumel: Well, yeah, and his staff was doing the work for him, but he was really done with work, well, years before he actually left the court.
Nick Tomboulides: There’s a reason, Phil, that the average American retires at age 66. We know our limits, and we know there’s a time to walk away. Coincidentally, the average age of a Supreme Court justice is also 66. Isn’t that amazing? At the same age most Americans retire, people on the federal bench believe that they’re only getting started. And we need to fix that. There’s a huge discrepancy there.
Philip Blumel: The average retirement age for a Supreme Court justice is 80. The average.
Nick Tomboulides: With Presidential candidates talking about it, this might have a tendency to get politicized. It is not a political issue in the slightest. Over 70% of Americans want term limits for the Supreme Court. The proposal that you just talked about, the 18 years where every President would get two picks, that actually was the brain child of one of the co-founders of the Federalist Society, which is considered a conservative-leaning think tank for judges and lawyers. So it’s a proposal with widespread support, and we can’t allow it to become politicized, because it’s just a good idea at it’s core.
Speaker 6: (Singing)
Philip Blumel: Nearly every congressional hearing can be seen as free advertisement for the Term Limits Movement. All the arguments about the irreplaceability of these wise and experienced individuals suddenly seems to fall away. Perhaps, instead, what we’re seeing are insulated politicians who don’t face serious electoral competition, and who’s experience, vast as it is, has become more and more and more from the experiences of individual Americans.
Philip Blumel: In April of last year, CNBC chronicled how Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by several veteran congressional luminaries, including Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Speaker 7: Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?
Speaker 8: No.
Philip Blumel: Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Speaker 9: How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?
Speaker 8: Senator, we run ads.
Philip Blumel: Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.
Speaker 10: Do you track devices that an individual who uses Facebook has that is connected to the device that they use for their Facebook connection, but not necessarily connected to Facebook?
Speaker 8: I’m not sure the answer to that question.
Philip Blumel: And Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey.
Speaker 11: Will you commit to changing all the user default setting to minimize to the greatest extent possible the collection and use of user’s data?
Speaker 8: Congressman, this is a complex issue that I think deserves more than a one-word answer.
Speaker 11: Well, again, that’s disappointing to me.
Speaker 6: (Singing)
Philip Blumel: Paul Jacob is a board member of U.S. Term Limits and President of the Liberty Initiative Fund.
Speaker 12: The incumbency versus progressives. The Democratic party leadership is choosing machine politics over ushering in a new generation of leaders in the fundamental idea of democracy, charged Alexandra Rojas, the young Executive Director of Justice Democrats. She specifically assails the DCCC’s blacklist of political professionals working for the Democratic party candidates, who dare to challenge Democratic incumbents in next year’s Democratic primaries.
Speaker 12: The intercept reports that at least four consultants dropped challenger Marie Newman’s campaign under pressure from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s new policy to cut off vendors working with primary challengers. Newman is formidable, having come within two percentage points of Representative Dan Lipinski in the 2018 Illinois Democratic primary.
Speaker 12: Now, the National Abortion Rights Action League, Democracy For America, and other progressive groups are decrying a DCCC blacklist policy that protects anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ corporate Democrats like Dan Lipinski. And progressives have reason for disgust. Lipinski is a protected insider. For the last 36 years, there has been a Lipinski in Congress. Bill Lipinski, the current Congressman’s father, held the seat for 22 years before giving it to his son, and yes, giving is the correct word.
Speaker 12: In 2004, two months before the November election, while running unopposed for a 12th term, the incumbent resigned, too late to trigger a special election wherein voters could make a choice. Instead, Bill’s replacement was handpicked by the Illinois district’s Democratic party committee, controlled by, you guessed it, Bill Lipinski. That insider group chose Bill’s son, Daniel, who was then living in Kentucky. It was an open process, claimed the father.
Speaker 12: Today, per the blacklist, the DCCC says their policy doesn’t discourage primary challengers. Well, I guess no one expects truth from a political machine. This is common sense. I’m Paul Jacob. For more common sense, go to thisiscommonsense.com.
Philip Blumel: Are there any drawbacks to this idea?
Nick Tomboulides: The idea of term limiting Supreme Court justices?
Philip Blumel: Yeah. I spent some time thinking about what the possible drawbacks could be, and it’s very hard for me to uncover any drawbacks to this.
Nick Tomboulides: I think any drawbacks that you would see would be very parochial and very partisan, depending on which lens people view this through. So, for example, if you are a Democrat and a term limit opens up two Supreme Court seats for a Republican to nominate, you might be pissed off about that, and vice versa, but that’s the whole point.
Nick Tomboulides: The Constitution, the rule of law, the process that guides checks and balances and the judiciary, is not written for political purposes. It’s written to do what’s best for the country, and I think rotation in office is a central part of any well-functioning Republic, so it doesn’t really matter. But I guess if you are a pure political animal, who’s like, “Republicans win win win, Democrats win win win,” you might be a little miffed by this at various points. But you can see the wisdom of doing it for the good of the country.
Philip Blumel: Right. Very much like term limits for the legislature. When your guy gets term limited, you might be frustrated. When the other guys get term limited, you’re all for it. But overall, most people are for it, and for good reason.
Nick Tomboulides: We’ve seen this with the President. Republicans weren’t complaining that George W. Bush had to leave. Democrats weren’t really complaining that Barack Obama had to leave. Both sides, at this point, pretty much understand that term limits are a very good idea.
Philip Blumel: Also in the news, I noted another new poll, and I know we love polls here, because they always break our way. Here’s a poll that came out that Scott Rasmumssen came out with, it’s just this last week, that I thought was fascinating, and it has to do with term limits, at least indirectly. And that is that 53% told this pollster that political corruption is a national crisis in the United States. 53%. And another 36% believe it’s a significant problem, but not a crisis.
Nick Tomboulides: I wasn’t too impressed with 53%. I thought it was low. So I also dug deeper into the data, and once you really unpack it, you find 89% of Americans are troubled by political corruption. I want to know, who are the 10% who don’t think corruption is a problem?
Philip Blumel: Well, they’re in the Congress, and probably their wives and children and cousins and employees.
Nick Tomboulides: The friends and family members of politicians. These people who are getting these sweet gigs as lobbyists, because their uncle or dad is elected somewhere. You’ve got to really have your head in the sand to not see the reality. One author that we recommend a lot on this podcast, we play his clips, is Larry Lessig, Harvard professor, he’s an expert on corruption.
Nick Tomboulides: He points out in his books, which are all great, by the way, that American corruption is not even hidden anymore. It is just out in the open. Politicians are transactional, it’s like this gift economy. They rake in campaign cash, and then they dole out favors to those people without any shame in the world, and if you’re just an ordinary citizen who’s trying to get a lawmaker to listen to you, good freaking luck. You probably won’t even get a meeting, much less progress on whatever your priorities are.
Nick Tomboulides: But if you’re a lobbyist for big oil, or big pharma, and you want a subsidy, you want to be protected from competition, and you’ve cut this person some hefty checks, he will be at your beck and call. That is what modern corruption looks like. That’s what Lessig talks about in his books, and we need to do a better job explaining that. We need to explain it’s not always the bad man, who’s just slipping cash to these congressmen. It is all out in the open, now. It’s dependency corruption.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Well, like you say, it is all out in the open, and this poll shows that people are seeing it. You say that you weren’t impressed by 53%, and of course, it is 89, really, when you take it all in, but what I found is really impressive is that Rasmussen had a list of ten problems that are seen as crises in our country, and political corruption was number one amongst the voters that he polled as being the worst national crisis we’re facing.
Philip Blumel: This is more than, say, those that believe that illegal immigration is a national crisis, or government deficits, or climate change, or poverty, or student loan debt, or overregulation, or sexism. All these different things, the voters said no, it’s political corruption. Look around.
Nick Tomboulides: Mainstream journalists do a lot of dumb things. But one of their worst is how they cover term limits. In every story, they literally dial up the politicians who’re about to be termed out of office, about to lose all that clout, power, and wealth, and they say, “Hey, what do you think of this?” Then they print the predictably slanted answers as fair and unbiased.
Nick Tomboulides: I’ve never understood it. This is like asking inmates, “Should we lock the door to your asylum?” Or asking, “Hey, Mr. Tobacco CEO, how do you feel about the new smoking ban?” Term limits are designed to make politicians’ lives uncomfortable. That’s the whole point. Just as chickens will never love Colonel Sanders, politicians will never love this idea, and to even ask them is the worst media malpractice and conflict of interest one could ever imagine. Any journalist who does it should instantly be fired.
Speaker 13: (Singing)
Philip Blumel: Well, that’s it for this week. Supreme Court term limits are a good idea whose time has come, but the real battle for term limits right now is still in Congress and the state legislatures where term limits are essential to fix these broken and corrupted institutions.
Philip Blumel: The battle is particularly intense in Arizona and Missouri. If you live in these states, please go to termlimits.com and look for the current actions tab. There, you’ll have the opportunity to contact your legislators to support these important bills. It’s all teed up for you, the process will take you five minutes max.
Philip Blumel: Please forward a link to the relevant page to anyone that you know who lives in these states. Thanks for joining us. If you’d like to be reminded on Mondays about each new episode of No Uncertain Terms, please subscribe. You can use the Apple Podcast app, Stitcher, Google Play, or iTunes. We’ll be back next week.
Speaker 13: (Singing)
Philip Blumel: This podcast is made possible by the support of you, the American people, and your voluntary financial contributions, which can be made through our website at termlimits.com. Thank you.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s cool, yeah. I go there all the time. They have a great ice cream shop. It’s called Pop’s Ice Cream, on U.S. one. If you like ice cream, it’s great homemade ice cream. The pistachio is fantastic. It’s the only pistachio ice cream you can get that has real pistachios in it. Most pistachio ice cream uses almonds. They’re cutting corners.
Nick Tomboulides: You go to Baskin-Robbins, Baskin-Robbins is a huge fraud. Their pistachio ice cream is fake news. But if you go to Pop’s Ice Cream on U.S. one, they use real pistachios. It’s phenomenal.
MUSIC CREDITS – Full versions of the music sampled during this podcast may be purchased via iTunes at the following links :
“Justice” by Ziggy Marley, “Surfin’ Bird” as performed by The Cramps (originally written by The Trashmen), “Watching The Detectives” by Elvis Costello
The “No Uncertain Terms” podcast is produced by Kenn Decter for U.S. Term Limits
Executive Producer Philip Blumel (President, U.S. Term Limits)