With Chief Justice Rehnquist ill and Republicans facing the possibility of a loss of the presidency, it’s time for those of us not at all pleased with the prospect of a President Kerry appointing Rehnquist’s replacement to put the blame squarely where it belongs: on Rehnquist. The man has been on the Court for over thirty years, which should be long enough for anyone. He could have resigned in 2003, and virtually guaranteed that he would be replaced with a Bush appointee. Instead, he could not pry himself loose from the power and prestige of his office, and instead chose to hang on into his 80th year. For putting his own love of the Chief Justiceship above the cause of ensuring that a (reasonably) like-minded individual replace him, Rehnquist deserves the contempt of all Federalists in good standing. (I know it’s tough to give up power, but can we all take a lesson from George Washington in that regard?)
More generally, it’s time to institute term limits for Supreme Court Justices. Give them fifteen years, a generous pension, and a ban on future income beyond that pension. No one should be wielding the type of unreviewable power Supreme Court Justices wield for any longer than that, nor should the American legal system be governed by individuals appointed a couple of generations ago, nor should the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court be dictated by the fortuities of the health and longevity of individual Justices. If Clarence Thomas lives into his ninetees, the dead hand of the first Bush Administration will be exercising influence on the Court in 2040! With no disrespect to Thomas implied, that is not a welcome prospect.