Pelosi: There 'Certainly Should Be Term Limits' for Supreme Court Justices

Pelosi: There 'Certainly Should Be Term Limits' for Supreme Court Justices
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in Washington on March 22, 2023. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Protect Our Care)
Catherine Yang

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sunday expressed support for putting an end to the lifelong terms of members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pelosi, in an interview on MSNBC's "Inside with Jen Psaki," said U.S. Supreme Court justices should have term limits.

"Here we have a body, chosen for life, never have to run for office, nominated, confirmed for life, with no accountability for their ethics behavior," Pelosi said.

"There certainly should be term limits," she added. "And if nothing else, there should be some ethical rules to be followed."

"The court has said they want to create their own ethical standard. I think that's an indication they don't have one that is sufficient," she said. "Let's see what they can do."

Following some discussion on abortion laws, marking one year after the court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, Psaki told Pelosi a recent Quinnipiac University poll found only 30 percent of registered voters approved of the Supreme Court, the lowest since the university began asking the question in 2004.

"Thirty percent seems high," Pelosi said.

"We have no control over the Supreme Court of the United States, except to continue to elect Democratic presidents who can continue to elect Justices who believe in the Constitution."

Pelosi also said there should be more discussion on expanding the court.

"It's been 150 years since we've had an expansion of the court—it was in the time of Lincoln that it went up to nine, so the subject of whether that should happen is a discussion; it's not, say, a rallying cry, but it's a discussion," she said. "The president formed a commission: they did not recommend expansion of the court, that shouldn't be the end of it."

Court Controversy

Other polls have similarly shown a dip in Supreme Court approval ratings.
The Marquette Law School's mid-May poll found that 41 percent of American adults approved of the court while 59 percent disapproved. Respondents also rated the "honesty and ethical standards" of Supreme Court justices more negatively than positively: 26 percent responded "very high/high," 39 percent "average," and 35 percent "low/very low."
A September 2022 Gallup poll showed 40 percent of Americans approved while 58 percent disapproved of "the way the Supreme Court was handling its job."
The Marquette Law School' poll adds, "The justices are generally not well known, with a majority of the public saying they don’t know enough to give a favorable or unfavorable opinion about most justices," given that the court is not in the news nearly as often as the president or Congress. But recent high profile issues, including the anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the court's ruling that states may not challenge the Biden administration's deportation policy, has raised its profile for the time being. Reports by ProPublica about financial disclosures of Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito further fueled recognition, according to the poll, as well as controversy.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, pointed to these financial disclosure reports as reason to enact Supreme Court ethics legislation.
"The reputation and credibility of the Court are at stake. Chief Justice Roberts could resolve this today, but he has not acted," the release states. If the court has not written its own ethics rules by July 4, the Senate Judiciary Committee "will mark up Supreme Court ethics legislation."

Upcoming Decisions

The Supreme Court, set to begin its summer break the end of the month, still has several opinions to release on major issues including affirmative action, student loan debt forgiveness, and state rules in federal election matters.
In February, the court heard arguments on the Biden administration's plan to cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals with incomes no higher than $125,000 or households making less than $250,000.
On Monday, the court ruled that a Louisiana congressional map may have to be redrawn when it dismissed an appeal made by the Louisiana Secretary of State. Earlier this month, it rejected a district court's decision to require Alabama to redraw a congressional map.