Should politics dictate when Supreme Court justices retire?

Dec 6, 2013

U.S President Barack Obama (C) greets (L-R) Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer before the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill on January 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. ; Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 There has been a lot of speculation about when 80-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should retire. The oldest member of the court is probably taking a lot of things into consideration when deciding when to leave the bench, but politics may not be one of them.

Some court watchers are now calling for Justice Ginsberg and 75-year-old Stephen Breyer to step aside in the name of politics. Democrats are hoping to clear some space on the bench before the 2014 midterm elections puts control of the Senate in jeopardy.

The best chance that President Obama would have of nominating a liberal-leaning justice would be while the White House and the Senate are both controlled by Democrats. Yet is politics an appropriate reason for a justice to retire? Some argue that defies the purpose of the lifelong appointments written into the Constitution.

With the US becoming increasingly polarized, should that factor into Supreme Court nominations as well? Should a Justice retire so the President can nominate someone with similar political beliefs? What factors should determine when a Justice retires?


 Lyle Denniston, legal journalist for SCOTUSBlog and the National Constitution Center’s Adviser on Constitutional Literacy

Jonathan Bernstein, political scientist and columnist for the Washington Post

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