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Maine's Congressional Delegation Discuss Potential Changes To The Supreme Court

J. Scott Applewhite
AP File

Over the summer months, the issue of reforming the U.S. Supreme Court has emerged as a topic in the Democratic presidential contest, and as a cause for critics who say justices are serving too long. The four members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation are divided on a proposal to impose term limits on court appointments.

Critics say the court should be more open to the public, by streaming their sessions on the internet, and that it should adopt more transparent financial disclosure and ethics rules- just like other courts. But the idea of limiting the now lifelong appointment to some lesser term seems to have broad support.

“When I was growing up, justices served really just 15 to 18 years on average,” says Gabe Roth, of the group Fix the Court. “Now they are serving closer to 28 or 30.”

Fix the Court is a force behind the term limits movement. Roth appeared recently on CSPAN.

The idea that we have individuals having so much power, holding on to their power for so long, is completely undemocratic, and there is a simple way to fix it, 18 year term limits,” Roth said.

Some members of congress support term limits for the Supreme Court First District Democrat Chellie Pingree of Maine is among them.

“I think there is increasing concern with one administration having the opportunity to give the court such a strong ideological leaning that can impact or judicial process for a very long time,” she says.

In Maine’s Second District, fellow Democrat Jared Golden, says that term limits are not going to resolve the concerns that some critics have levelled at the high court. He believes the problems have more to do with another branch of government.

“I think that people’s attention on the Supreme Court has been driven more by the dysfunction of Congress than the dysfunction of the Supreme Court, to be honest with you,” he says.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, is opposed to setting limits on judicial service on the high court. She says it would result only in more political jockeying for liberal or conservative seats as they become vacant.

“Term limits would be a terrible mistake because that would transform the court into a political entity. I want the court to be above politics,” she says.

As did the framers of the Constitution, Collins says.

But independent Senator Angus King says the court nomination process is already subject to political gaming, and that’s what is behind the call for term limits.

“One thing that worries me and bothers me, is that Mitch McConnell basically held Merritt Garland’s nomination hostage, arguing that it was in the last year of Obama’s presidency and therefore shouldn’t be heard.”

King says term limits would not make the court less political and says enacting a change will be very difficult to accomplish.

It takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to propose a constitutional amendment and ratification votes by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Several reform proposals are being drafted for introduction in Congress, but it is not clear whether they would ever get to the floor of either the House or the Senate for debate.