Stephen Breyer does the right thing. Others should be spared his burden of decision. We should end lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court.
VERY interesting, and I think of myself, a 56-year-old history professor. My father died at 86, still totally with it and living independently. But when he was 84, he commented that his father had died at that age. When I turned 56, I thought, wait a minute, I'm 2/3 done. What do I want to do with the rest of my time? Thanks to some of the vagaries of my job, not necessary what I really want to do, but I still have opportunities.
As for the court, a couple of points. One is that the life appointment began in 1789, when lives were much shorter. Another is that Mr. Madison did not view the judiciary as co-equal, according to Jack Rakove, and no living historian knows more about Madison. Part of the issue is not lifetime appointments, but rather that those appointees have more power than they should or than the framers intended. But until and unless there is a change, Democrats had better realize the importance of the judiciary. It obviously didn't matter to anyone to the left who didn't vote for Al Gore or Hillary Clinton, or for that matter a Democratic Senate candidate.
Jim, love your thoughts today. They resonate. Especially about the Ezekiel Emanuel article. Sam and I are always disagreeing about that one! I take your position, which is keep going, doing what you love, and try to make a difference.
Thank you for the wonderful article and personal stories! Your father sounds like a special, amazing person. About western ideas of aging: I think you inspired a lot of interior soul-searching with the insights on aging. Remember the slogan from my generation, "never trust anyone over 30." That perspective changes a little through time!
Age brings a kind of patience, a kind of perspective, that makes older people great teachers. It is said that baby boomers are remaking every age that we pass through. We can see the volunteerism, energy, and love of life that my generation exhibits, as we experience the Wheel of Time.
Getting older is not at all a negative, we feel instead the rightness of how the Wheel of Time, the natural progression of life, informs the human experience.
By the way, the average life expectancy in ancient Egypt was 25. Perspective about how we look at aging is important.
here is something to ponder, about life experiences through time:
“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
Thank you, Mr. Fallows, for another spot-on article at exactly the right moment. I am so glad for this blog.
Holmes was actually left for dead, having been shot through the neck, during Antietam, one of the most intense battles of the Civil War. The medics eventually found him and brought him back to the hospital where even he expected to die. He managed to scrawl out a note bearing his name and address in the event his body needed to be identified and shipped home.
It would be nice if, along with term limits, norms were set in stone as to when a president could appoint a justice and when appointments would have to wait for the subsequent president to take office.
I recall reading somewhere that the lifetime appointment idea began in an era when the average lifespan was significantly shorter than it is today. Whether that was a factor or not is immaterial, however - Fallows is spot on about the reasons we need to abolish the lifetime tenure on the Court.
And not just the Court - we need term limits in Congress as well. A long time ago I read that term limits on elected members of Congress would shift the power in D.C. toward unelected bureaucrats. I certainly understand the rationale behind this notion, but I don't think that this is an unsurmountable problem. As with lifetime Court appointments, a bit of creative thinking and most important, a public service motivation, would help to bring about workable solutions. There are some extremely bright people of all ages who can work together to create these new policies.
I'm a recently retired teacher who was invited last summer by a former administrator to help him with a new school he was assuming control of. I'm not sorry I made the choice to leave my retirement home for a year and return to the classroom, and I'm doing the best work I think I've ever done. But I do think that there are any number of younger folks who could do at least as good a job. So while the work is fulfilling for me, I can't help wondering if it's the best thing for the kids. At any rate, I've "term-limited" myself out of this job next June anyway.
One last point: I taught overseas for the last 6 years before my retirement, and one fact stood out: certain countries would not allow older teachers in the classroom. For Turkey, the cutoff is 65 years old. Most international schools in China (and several other SE Asian nations) won't even interview anyone over 60 - or near 60, since most contracts are for 2 - 3 years. So it seems this business of working until we die is unique to the US, or at least to Western democracies. In most other parts of the world, public policy explicitly demands retirement at a certain age.
And I think that's a good thing - for all of us.
One correction to Mr. Williams comment: Speaker Pelosi only announced her intention to run for re-election as a member of Congress. Given that she promised her fellow Democrats that she wouldn't speak another term as Speaker, it may be harder for her go back on that.
I'd like to present the selfish view of why these older officeholders should consider retirement early rather than trying to last forever in office--to preserve elements of their ideas. and approaches beyond their lifetime
In the case of Supreme Court Justices, if they retire while a 'friendly President and Senate' are in office, they end up with the ability to influence the choice of their successor. For example, Justice Kennedy was able to steer consideration to Kavanaugh, his former law clerk. In the Senate, Senator Feinstein, while generally liberal, has some views that conflict with the general attitudes of California voters. As far as I can see, she is not allied with nor helping any potential successor. So, when she leaves office, her views and approach to legislation will die. If she truly believes that legacy not die with her, she should be promoting a mentee, and leave office when the mentee can stand on their own.
A terrific and timely piece, Jim. I’d add only that the pace of change — far greater than it used to be — is another argument to abolish lifetime tenure (unless, of course, you’re a strict originalist). Please do, at some point, turn your attention to the rotten boroughs of universities with life tenure for faculty members. It is the principal cause for the cost of post-secondary education rising even faster than the cost of healthcare (think septuagenarian faculty members taking up paid spots and not teaching much), probably discourages lots of qualified young people from a teaching career, and arguably promotes intellectual rot in the places where we should least tolerate it. Moreover, in many states, including mine, the problem is magnified by tenure in public school systems and a labor agreement in public higher education that effectively lodges the management of our universities in the hands of the faculties — foxes guarding henhouses.
Thanks Jim, I liked this article. What a shame the Ruth Bader Ginsburg "bet on mortality" gesture wound up the way it did. At least in the case of the NFL (Tom Brady? Aaron Rodgers?) there is an open terrain for youngsters and oldsters. The academic world is certainly closed, as you point out. In the business world I find there is often (especially nowadays) a preference for middle-aged managers rather than older types who have seen more business cycles. Board directorships tend to have an age limitation. But as you point out, the worst case is the US Supreme Court.
Other examples: Nancy Pelosi, age 81, just announced her intention to run for Speaker again. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 87 and apparently intends to run again in 2024. Questions of diminished capacity aside--Pelosi, at least, seems mentally vigorous--these senior members of Congress occupy seats that could be available to a new generation. And they hold up the promotion of their younger colleagues to leadership positions. Younger members leave Congress for many reasons, but frustration from limited opportunities to advance to positions of greater influence must be among the deciding factors. There are no constitutional age limits for members of Congress, but your points above about the broad sense of duty apply.