Just(ice) retire already, would you?
In the words of the Great Bambino, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” True as this quote may be, the Sultan of Swat forgot the third line. The quote should read, “heroes get remembered and legends never die, but Supreme Court Justices will out-last the sun.”
This issue has an interesting background. Original justices were more like husbands whose wives forced them to go shopping. They hated the job and jumped ship as soon as possible. This was partially due to the relatively insignificant amount of power held by the Court, but also because of the “riding circuit.” Supreme Court Justices had to parade around one of three geographical circuits to preside over cases. Now keep in mind, they didn’t have any fancy inventions like cars or Heelys yet. And even though they were quality Americans, they had not quite mastered eagle flying like Gandalf.
Chief Justice John Jay, the first Chief Justice, complained that circuit riding made the job too strenuous and hard for older justices. So, what do the men of upstanding character and moral compass do when hard times hit? Persevere for the good of their country, right? These are quasi-politicians, so of course not. They quit. And this became quite a problem in the early years of the Court.
But as time moved on, the justices stopped moving on. Circuit riding was no longer mandatory; therefore, older judges could now handle the job. Combined with the power brought to the Court by Chief Justice John Marshall, justices were no longer those family members that left Christmas dinner the minute they finished eating, but now resembled the annoying in-laws that stayed three days past the invite.
Now the opposite problem had to be solved. How can a justice be convinced to leave, particularly when the majority on the bench is of the opposing partisan of the Executive and Legislative branches? So, Congress did what Congress does whenever they are faced with a difficult task: throw money at the problem and hope it goes away. They created a pension plan for the justices. This did help some, but justices are professional hagglers used to dealing with balancing risk and reward, so did not break.
Then some more changes came. Changes that did nothing except destroy Congress’ previous efforts. The Court only had to hear cases 3 times per week rather than 5. Apparently, they couldn’t rent out hearing aids for 9 people the whole week. In addition to this, the Court members now have cars and drivers as well, so parking is no longer an issue of concern. Imagine Chief Justice Roberts getting a parking ticket because his meter ran out while listening to an oral argument. Understandably frustrating.
And so here we are again with breathing fossils on the most powerful bench in America. With the average justice age being 68, most of them date back to the Jurassic period. Perhaps Congress should add an all-expenses paid vacation to Florida every year after retirement? Or maybe go backwards and shove the bench on a real bench by making them take the subway to Court everyday.