Should Supreme Court Justices have to ride circuit?

That is the proposal advanced by Kyle Sammin at The Federalist. Sammin recognizes the folly of term limits for Supreme Court Justices, which would require the practical impossibility of a constitutional amendment. Instead, he suggests that we might promote more frequent turnover by requiring Justices to once again “ride circuit” — the 18th and 19th century practice of having Justices travel across the country to hear more ordinary cases during breaks in the Court’s regular term. Sammin states:

Restoring circuit duties to the Supreme Court would provide a natural way of decreasing tenure on the bench. Travel is not as difficult in 2019 as it was in 1819, but it can still be exhausting. If circuit riding had still been a part of the job, infirm justices such as William O. Douglas, William Brennan, and John Paul Stevens would have left the bench before they were fully in decline. Ginsburg would likely have retired a decade ago, as many on the left wish she had. Instead, arrogance and ease lead to justices remaining in their jobs when they are not up to the tasks appointed to them.

I am intrigued by this proposal, although I am not as optimistic that the additional travel burden would put off any but the most frail Justices. The Court’s current members — even those well into their eighties — are already frequent travelers. They speak at law schools, promote their books, accept cozy summer teaching positions, and so on. Open Secrets, for example, found that in 2018 the Justices collectively took 64 trips that were paid for by others. Justice Ginsburg alone took a dozen trips to far-flung places around the world. And even though riding circuit would involve real judicial work rather that quasi-legal junkets, it seems fair to say that all the Justices truly enjoy their day jobs.

What do you think, readers?

One thought on “Should Supreme Court Justices have to ride circuit?”

  1. Important issue ( generally speaking). But the respectable author of the related article, ignores simply all around advantages and disadvantages with all due respect:

    And first, it takes hell of skills and experiences to function as judge. So, time plays significant role here. If one judge is healthy and in good shape, then, in time, there is huge added value, by gaining more and more yield from his work, with less and less investment. This is hell of advantage ( while workload is so heavy).

    Second, one judge, should, or must stay focused. This is not an ordinary job. Demands high skills, and high cognitive capacity. Mistakes here, are very fatal. So, instead of staying sharp and well focused, the respectable author of the post, suggests what ? exhaustion ? This is not really reasonable with all due respect. It may also, erode public trust, in judgment and discretion exercised by judges.

    Third, well, one may argue, that there is red line. correct. But the red line has nothing to do with duration or axis of time. But rather, the shape or medical condition of the judge. But, one may interpret the wording of the constitution : ” good behavior ” as touching also, the cognitive capacity of one judge. So, if he is no longer competent,and refuses to acknowledge it, it would be then, up to the judiciary, and the chief justice, to deal with it. That is what the constitution dictates. Or, that is what the Congress should legislate: how to diagnose it, and deal with one judge, that unfortunately, has lost his cognitive capacity, or, is not at his best in office.

    Finally, not to forget, higher is the office, surly for the rest of life, less commitment or bias towards political pressures. One person, has reached the peak of his career, why would he then, yield to political pressure ? He has become totally independent. That is the independence of judiciary or court, at its best.



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