Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) launched his long-shot bid Wednesday to dramatically reshape the structure of the Supreme Court.
The Republican presidential candidate convened a Senate hearing to protest high court rulings last month that reaffirmed constitutional support for President Obama’s health law and legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
Cruz’s solution: to amend the Constitution to allow for “imposing real limits on the Supreme Court.”
The Texas senator — and former Supreme Court clerk — is calling for term limits for all federal judges. Lower-level federal judges receive lifetime appointments, although many move into a senior status with a reduced caseload after passing retirement age. Supreme Court justices receive lifetime appointments and most now serve well into their 80s.
Cruz also wants to force Supreme Court justices to face elections, where would determine if they should remain on the bench.
The proposals have little support in the Senate. But Cruz said that after the high court’s recent rulings, he had to act. “This past term the Court crossed a line, continued its long descent into lawlessness, to a level that I believe demands action,” Cruz, a Harvard Law graduate, said during his 13-minute opening statement.
“It has declared itself, in effect, a super-legislature,” Cruz said.
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), the ranking member on the subcommittee, rejected the idea of injecting electoral politics into a judicial system that the Founding Fathers established to be impervious to political winds.
“The Supreme Court has been a vital arbiter of political interests precisely because it is insulated from the vagaries of politics and political interests,” Coon said, calling the federal judicial branch “the finest judiciary in the world.”
Cruz’s presidential bid, based largely on an effort to court social conservatives and staunch anti-Washington voters, has flagged in recent months amid the rise of billionaire Donald Trump, whose jump in polls has accompanied a drop for Cruz.
After the Supreme Court’s twin rulings backed by Obama in late June, Cruz called it “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.”
On Wednesday, he lashed out at Justice Anthony Kennedy, who joined a six-justice majority in the health-care ruling and wrote the 5-to-4 opinion in the same-sex-marriage case.
Cruz noted that Kennedy also provided a key swing vote in the 1992 case that upheld the right to abortion, blaming the Ronald Reagan appointee for the “direct consequences” of the recent scandal surrounding allegations that Planned Parenthood sells parts of aborted fetuses.
“We should be horrified at the notion that five unelected justices can seize for themselves the policy-making authority and take it from the American people,” Cruz said.
However, his ideas to “rein in judicial tyranny” were met with uncertain support even from the hearing’s witnesses, which included two conservative scholars and one liberal legal analyst.
When Cruz asked his panel if they supported his idea of judicial term limits, Ed Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, said that he was not sure. John C. Eastman, a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas and former dean of Chapman University Fowler School of Law, said he rejected the idea of term limits because it could just lead to one activist judge being replaced by another activist.
The liberal law professor — Neil S. Siegel, a former clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and legal adviser to Vice President Biden when he was a senator — was the lone panelist to say he supported term limits.
Correction: This story originally said that Supreme Court justices were the only federal judges to receive lifetime appointments. Other lower-level federal judges also receive lifetime appointments, though many eventually move into a senior status with a lower caseload.