Why did the framers of the Constitution give Supreme Court …
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Why did the framers of the Constitution give Supreme Court …

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Why do the supreme court justices have a life term period?

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The justices of the Supreme Court of the United States is composed by chief justices which have a life-term period on that position after they are “elected”.

I have always asked to myself why some positions are by life-term, is there any reason like avoid corruption?

united-states constitution supreme-court

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edited Jun 28 at 12:58



asked Dec 5 ’12 at 2:18

Alberto Bonsanto


  • 3

    @Raymond Tenure
    –  Michael Mrozek
    Dec 5 ’12 at 6:26

  • 1

    @MichaelMrozek Unless they teach singing, possibly. Probably auto-correct.
    –  Phil Lello
    Apr 1 ’16 at 0:17

  • 1

    (put as a joke) Maybe at the time of the writing of the constitution, lifespan was not as it is now; and there was a faster turn around ?
    –  Max
    Jun 29 at 15:18

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4 Answers




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(You’ve got some terminology confusion: the Chief Justice is the head of the court, the rest are just “justices”)

When the Constitution was being written the framers were used to Great Britain’s monarchy, and were somewhat eager to limit the monarch’s (in the case of the U.S., the executive branch’s) power. The U.S. government places a high value on checks and balances between the branches, and the English notion of the king arbitrarily firing a judge he didn’t like was problematic. In the Federalist Papers #78, Hamilton wrote:

The standard of good behavior for the continuance in office of the Judicial magistracy, is certainly one of the most valuable of the modern improvements in the practice of Government. In a monarchy, it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the Prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any Government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.

In short, the court is around to make sure the other branches don’t decide to start eliminating fundamental rights

Furthermore, term limits mean there’s more pressure to keep the people happy; even if justices aren’t directly elected like many other politicians, the opinion of the country will have a big impact on whether or not they keep their seats. From the same paper:

This independence of the Judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals, from the effects of those ill humors, which the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures, sometimes disseminate among the People themselves, and which, though they speedily give place to better information, and more deliberate reflection, have a tendency, in the mean time, to occasion dangerous innovations in the Government, and serious oppressions of the minor party in the community. Though I trust the friends of the proposed Constitution will never concur with its enemies, in questioning that fundamental principle of republican Government, which admits the right of the People to alter or abolish the established Constitution, whenever they find it inconsistent with their happiness, yet it is not to be inferred from this principle, that the Representatives of the People, whenever a momentary inclination happens to lay hold of a majority of their constituents, incompatible with the provisions in the existing Constitution, would, on that account, be justifiable in a violation of those provisions; or that the Courts would be under a greater obligation to connive at infractions in this shape, than when they had proceeded wholly from the cabals of the Representative body. Until the People have, by some solemn and authoritative act, annulled or changed the established form, it is binding upon themselves collectively, as well as individually; and no presumption, or even knowledge of their sentiments, can warrant their Representatives in a departure from it, prior to such an act. But it is easy to see, that it would require an uncommon portion of fortitude in the Judges to do their duty as faithful guardians of the Constitution, where Legislative invasions of it had been instigated by the major voice of the community.

Which I would interpret to mean: justices shouldn’t need to fear for their jobs every time they make a decision that might be unpopular, even if it’s in the country’s interests long term, because most judges won’t have the nerve to do what’s right

As a sidenote, the notion of life appointments for Supreme Court justices hasn’t been without controversy, particularly of late. Increased life expectencies means justices have been serving for longer than ever before, and some people feel that the checks against the judicial branch is considerably weaker than the other branches. Term Limits for the Supreme Court: Life Tenure Reconsidered proposed 18-year term limits, staggered so a new justice is appointed every two years. The Supreme Court Renewal Act proposed the same scheme

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answered Dec 5 ’12 at 2:46

Michael Mrozek


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    Originally, the United States court system had very little power. Only after John Marshall’s decision in Marbury v. Madison did the Supreme Court gain its power, judicial review. A number of John Marshall’s decisions, such as Cohens v. Virginia, gave the Supreme Court more power (in this particular case, the supremacy of the national Supreme Court over the state supreme courts).
    –  JKor
    Dec 5 ’12 at 2:57

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    @JKor I look at it more as the Supreme Court always had judicial review, they just didn’t really try it out until Marbury v. Madison. They can’t give themselves powers, they just decided to interpret the Constitution as meaning they always had that power, and nobody stopped them. Also, IMO the Federalist Papers (particularly the one I was quoting, #78) were pretty clear that judicial review was intended from the beginning
    –  Michael Mrozek
    Dec 5 ’12 at 3:02

  • I can see your point. Marbury v Madison probably was the first chance to really try out judicial review. I’m not an expert on Supreme Court cases so I’m not sure what high profile cases came before Marbury v Madison (if there were any), that would have given a reasonable chance for Marshall to use judicial review.
    –  JKor
    Dec 5 ’12 at 3:11

  • 1

    @JKor There’s a good list here . The only case of great historical significance was Chisholm v. Georgia, which was swiftly overturned by a constitutional amendment.
    –  Taymon
    Dec 5 ’12 at 3:56

  • 1

    Ironically, in attempting to separate the powers, the US has ended up with a far more politicised judiciary than is the case in Britain. Judicial appointments are almost entirely uncontested here. The reason for this is the different seat of supreme power. In America it is held to be in the Constitution (which is interpreted by judges). In Britain it is in Parliament, where supreme power is held. Under our unwritten constitution, a parliament can do literally anything, except bind a successive one.
    –  WS2
    Aug 10 ’16 at 11:26

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The reason that Supreme Court Justices(not just the chief justice, which is the head of the court) serve a life term is so that they do not have to worry about being thrown out of the court after making a decision. The idea is that judges should be able to rule without regards to public opinion, because they are meant to interpret The Constitution, not public opinion.

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answered Dec 5 ’12 at 2:25

Mr. November


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Judges are not in office for life, they are allowed to serve for life as long as while serving they continue to use “good Behavior” as required by the US Constitution, Article 3, section 1:

The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior,…

What is good behavior? It is doing the duties as assigned by the US Constitution, taking and keeping their Oath(s).

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edited Jul 20 ’17 at 3:38



answered Jul 20 ’17 at 2:13



  • 2

    This seems more of a technicality than an answer to the question. Senators are given 6 year terms–but only if they don’t do things that would end it sooner (like break the law and get kicked out).
    – user1530
    Jul 20 ’17 at 5:42

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Actually the idea that Supreme Court Justices are appointed to life time appointments is a bit deceptive. The constitution is vague on any term .

US Constitution
Article III
Section 1.

The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.

In reality, the President nominates a person to hold the position of Supreme Court Justice or of any other Federal Judge position. They must be confirmed by Congress.

In theory, any president could nominate a whole new Supreme Court and it would have to go before congress for approval. It is not likely that it would pass muster but there is nothing to prevent it.

The constitution says that Justices shall hold their offices during good behavior. It does not say they can not be replaced by a new nomination.

It does say if they behave badly they can be removed,which means without consent of the President.

The lack of definition leaves too many open ended arguments to be made. I personally believe that there should be term limits on the Judiciary as well as the legislative branch. That would require a constitutional amendment that would have to be ratified by two thirds of the states according to most experts. I disagree with that. I believe since the constitution does not define terms, then a congressional act setting those terms would not require a constitutional amendment.

I do however believe that without a constitutional amendment, it would mean little since the next congress could come along and change it right back by legislative act.

The vague outlines that surround the Supreme Court a well as all of the Federal Judiciary should definitely be addressed in some manner that is consistent.

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answered Jun 30 at 23:54

Jim Windwalker


  • 2

    What part of "shall hold their offices" allows them to be replaced after a set period of time? Also, 3/4 of states are needed to pass an amendment, not 2/3.
    –  D M
    Jul 1 at 1:53

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United States Supreme Court Justices

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What are the different types of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court?

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3 Answers

Evan Lee

Evan Lee , former Professor at University of California, Hastings College of the Law (1989-2017)

Pursuant to Article III of the Constitution, the United States Supreme Court has two types of jurisdiction: original and appellate. The original jurisdiction (in which the Court functions as a trial court, such as in border disputes between states) is prescribed by Article III itself. The Court’s appellate jurisdiction, which makes up 99 percent of its business, is prescribed by congressional statutes.

The appellate jurisdiction is generally made up of appeals from federal circuit courts and state supreme courts.

Robert Walker

Robert Walker , winner of two poetry contests

http://www.answers.com/Where do US Supreme Court cases come from?

You can get a fairly comprehensive answer to your at the above site when you type in the question written above.

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Robert Allen

Robert Allen , Bachelors of Science Criminal Justice & Social Sciences, Argosy University/Atlanta (2016)

The Supreme Court of the United States has two types of jurisdiction being Original jurisdiction in which the court operates as a trial court, and Appellate jurisdiction in which the court hears appeals from the federal circuit courts and State supreme courts.

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United States Supreme Court Justices

U.S. Constitutional Law

U.S. Supreme Court


Why did the framers of the Constitution give Supreme Court justices lifetime appointments?

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8 Answers

Derek Wills

Derek Wills , Editor and Podcast Host

The Framers never intended the Supreme Court to have the power of Judicial Review. That power is nowhere to be found in Article III. Even most legal scholars who don’t share the beliefs of our Framers will concede that the Supreme Court granted themselves that power in Marbury v. Madison (1803). It was such an awful ruling that Thomas Jefferson wrote about it until his dying day. On September 28, 1820, seventeen years after the ruling, Jefferson wrote this to William Jarvis:

“…[T]o consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed and one which would place us under the despotism of an Oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privileges of their corps. Their maxim is ‘boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionim,’ and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective countroul. The constitution has erected no such single tribunal knowing that, to whatever hands confided, with the corrputions of time & party it’s members would become despots…”

It is important to note that Jefferson wrote several letters throughout his last two decades on this earth railing against the Marbury decision that granted the Supreme Court this power. If you read Article III, as I said before, no mention of judicial review exists. What many people misread is Section 2:

“The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made…”

This says specifically that they have the power to hear and rule on cases involving both law and common law (equity), but only those that exist under the specific hierarchy of the Constitution, federal law, and treaties. This does not mean they have the power to rule whether a specific law is constitutional or not. It simply means that they have the power to rule on cases where an actor, by means of civil or criminal violation, broke a law, or violated someone else’s rights. It also means that the Supreme Court cannot rule or hear cases under which State constitutions or laws are the ruling authority, thus establishing a jurisdictional check between the federal and state governments.

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Peter Kierst

Peter Kierst , Principal Lecturer, Constitutional Law at University of New Mexico (2005-present)

So that cases would not be decided with an eye to the next election. The framers believed that courts needed to be able to decide difficult cases without worrying about whether their decision was popular or not. Particularly since majorities could influence Congress or the President to take unconstitutional action, the Court needed to be able to determine such actions were, indeed, unconstitutional without worrying about the majority’s reaction to its decision.

Ray Benitez

Ray Benitez , Attorney (1989-present)

The Founders felt the Judicial branch needed independence since it was a co-equal branch of Government with the Legislative and Executive branches. Since the Judicial branch would rule on matters concerning the other two branches, life tenure gave the Judicial branch freedom to overturn unconstitutional acts without fear of political backlash. There is always the option to impeach a Justice, but other than that, it is death or resignation which ends a Justice’s term.

Dave Stevens

Dave Stevens , Atheist, Democratic Socialist, Navy Veteran & Student of Life

The idea was to make it so that they did not have to be beholden to anyone else in government for their decisions.

It is a bad idea to elect SCOTUS judges because then they would be worried about getting re-elected, and this would affect their decision-making. It is not the job of SCOTUS judges to do what voters want or to seek the popular answer. It is their job to do what the Constitution says they should and the seek the legally correct answer.

Subjecting them to elections would get in the way of this and make it hard for them to do what was correct but unpopular.

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Charles Edward Martin

Charles Edward Martin , Systems Engineer (2016-present)

Several reasons. Mostly independence. The framers wanted the court to be above the whims of the mob. This is also the reason that their pay cannot be reduced. Keep in mind, that in 1789. people did not live as long as they do now!!I am certain that if the framers could foresee people living into their 90s, they might not have created the life tenure.

Dennis Cybulski

Dennis Cybulski , former Life and Health Agent (Never Lost a Client)) (1969-1995)

To make them immune to political pressure. They do not have to worry about their job if a ruling goes against the President or the political party in power.

In reality, there is always political bias and personal bias being exercised by Supreme Court Justices, which is most unfortunate.