DOMA struck down by Supreme Court, Prop 8 effectively dead, and why justices shouldn’t have life-long terms

20130627-SCOTUS-slide-EKV4-hpMediumRead more here, breaking news from the New York Times. Continue for more on life-long terms for SCOTUS justice

The Defense of Marriage Act, which decided that the federal US definition for marriage was between a man and a woman, was struck down, allowing same-sex couples that are married in states where it is legal to have the same benefits that heterosexual couples have before the federal government, including those for military families.

Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, was effectively ruled struck by the Court as it decided that the defendants did not have proper “standing” to argue for Prop 8. The defendants had taken the place of the Attorney General and governor of California, who declined to defend the state law. This overturns the previous appeal court’s ruling for Prop 8 and so Calirfonia effectively goes back to

Both cases had a 5-4 ruling. The full implications of both rulings are still being sorted out.

As I learn more about the Supreme Court and its justices, this article by The New Republic surprisingly outlines why the justices should not have life-long terms, against the wishes of the author’s of the US constitution. In summary:

  • Life spans have increased dramatically since the court’s inception, which has made the stakes a lot higher in confirming President-appointed justices; as such appointment processes have become “extremely partisan and contentious” – a bad thing?
  • Longer lives have led to many justices to live longer than the Presidents that appointed them. According the this author, “[d]ead presidents shouldn’t have that much power” to influence political ideology over generations
  • Justices are more likely to keep their seats till death, threatening “they’re much more likely to become gaga on the job”
  • According to this New Yorker article, Rick Perry’s proposed system-cum-constitutional-amendment (as GOP candidate, circa 2011) would give Presidents one nomination per term – a fairer system?

Still, the political insulation provided by life-long terms for SCOTUS justices – not having to please a constituency with less than stellar constitutional knowledge when your primary job is to interpret the US constitution – is a better alternative than anything that I have heard.

It also allows justices to choose when they want to resign, if they so wish, potentially allowing a President of similar political views to appoint one of their contemporaries, maintaining an ideological balance on court. One can’t predict when a justice will die or resign, nor can one predict what the political affiliation of the President of any given term will be.


UPDATE, 27 JUNE: This New Republic article writes: “Ever since Justice Kennedy held in Lawrence v. Texas that moral disapproval of homosexuality isn’t a legitimate purpose for any law, the writing was on the wall for DOMA.” Any objection to marriage equality must demonstrate how it injures or harms them.

UPDATE. 3 JULY: This Economist article reminds us why being a life-long justice can remove one from the radicalisation and polarisation of politics that comes with being an elected official. It begins with, rather sarcastically…

“IT IS lucky for the nine justices of America’s Supreme Court that they need not seek re-election. In the last days of their latest term they were denounced from the left for one ruling, which narrowed the scope of a 1965 law against racist barriers to voting, and from the right for a second, which struck down federal curbs on the rights of same-sex married couples…”


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