Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key provision of Obamacare on Thursday, Mike Huckabee made a bold declaration on Facebook.
I, Mike Huckabee, pledge allegiance to God, the Constitution, and the citizens of the United States:
* I will fight for term limits for members of Congress and judges.
* I will support the elevation of none but faithful constitutionalists as judges or justices. They must be committed to restraint and applying the original meaning of the Constitution, not legislating from the bench.
Huckabee's proposal to term limit Supreme Court Justices (among others) isn't something he thought up today. He broached the idea back in March during a speech at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. Then he went further with reporters.
Nobody should be in an unelected position for life. ... If the president who appoints them can only serve eight years, the person they appoint should never serve 40. That has never made sense to me; it defies that sense of public service
But Huckabee, whether intentionally or not, is also tapping into a line of thought that Thomas Jefferson, among others, ascribed to.
Jefferson was one of just a few of the Founding Fathers who objected from the very beginning to the idea of lifetime Supreme Court appointments, according to Peter Irons, a constitutional scholar and author of "A People's History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution." But Jefferson was most outspoken about his objections when the court made decisions he hated. (Sound familiar?)
Some of the most common reasons cited for Supreme Court term limits include the idea that an aging Supreme Court only becomes more overtly partisan with time, less mentally sharp and more out of touch with the millions of young Americans engaged in the daily mess called life which sometimes winds up before the court. Others think that lifetime appointments have made the confirmation process unnecessarily long and nasty.
Sure. But the idea of judicial term limits weren't such a popular idea in the time of Jefferson and probably won't become one now, according to Irons.
The Founding Fathers understood that there are real risks to both national stability and the authority of Congress to pass laws and see them uniformly implemented if there is no national court, free of political influence, to independently review and consider law. Supreme Court justices need to be able to decide cases without fear that their decisions will lead them to be voted off the court or pushed out due to political considerations or whims.
And if Huckabee were to find some public support for his Supreme Court term limits idea, that group would face a steep uphill effort. The idea behind lifetime Supreme Court appointments was included in the Constitution. So a constitutional amendment would be required to alter it. And that means that two-thirds of the House, then two-thirds of the Senate, would have to approve a term limits measure, followed by three-quarters of the states.
A very small handful of constitutional amendments have managed to navigate that process -- think Prohibition repeal and the amendment that allowed 18-year-olds to vote in the United States. But most face a hard, long slog. Some, like the controversial Equal Pay Amendment, linger and die.
That said, Huckabee isn't really out there alone on the term-limits-for-judges idea. Former Texas governor Rick Perry has also suggested term limits in the past, along with a host of left-leaning writers and thinkers. And so has Rand Paul.
The bottom line is this: The idea of Supreme Court term limits came up today. It has come up before and will quite likely come up again when the court makes a big decision that some people don't like. But it just isn't ever going to happen.