Document Type


Publication Title


Publication Date


Page Number


term limits, Supreme Court justices, doctrinal stability, Roe v. Wade


Law | Supreme Court of the United States


Should we impose term limits on Supreme Court justices? Many people, of varying political views, have suggested that we should. They argue that requiring justices to step down after a fixed term – the most common suggestion is 18 years – would give all presidents an equal opportunity to nominate justices, depoliticize the confirmation process and ensure that the Supreme Court is never too far out of step with the views of the American public.

Whether adopting term limits would accomplish all of these goals is, of course, disputed. But is there any reason not to try it? In “Term Limits and Turmoil: Roe v. Wade’s Whiplash,” forthcoming in the Texas Law Review, we argue that there is a very serious potential downside to limiting justices to 18-year terms. A Supreme Court that welcomes a new justice every two years, and turns over entirely over the course of every 18 years, could wreak havoc on doctrinal stability. Under the current constitutionally mandated system of life tenure, the court changes slowly. Most justices serve at least 20 years and many serve 30 years or more; no new justices joined the court at all between 1994 and 2005. This longevity and stability means that doctrine changes slowly and incrementally. A constantly changing court, on the other hand, might make sudden and radical changes in doctrine.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.