Should Supreme Court Justices have term limits?

February 25, 2021

Each year the Cotter Debate Series brings experts to campus that are at the forefront of their fields with the goal of debating pertinent topics to the United States and beyond. This year the focus fell on the Supreme Court of the United States and whether or not its judges should have term limits imposed upon their tenure on the bench. Suzanna Sherry, a professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, has written extensively on the Supreme Court (read her article, “Our Kardashian Court, and How to Fix it”), and argued for the merits of lifetime appointments for our highest court. Ilya Shapiro, the director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, took the opposing position, informed by his research for his most recent publication, Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court (2020). Our two debaters joined us via Zoom which allowed for our audience members to actively participate in the debate with their submitted questions, despite the need for social distancing precautions.

Over the course of an hour, guided by questions posed by student-moderator Andrew Ordentlich ’22, our two experts discussed a range of problems facing the Supreme Court today, including the partisan divide in nominations and confirmations, the impact of the two types of constitutional reading (originalists and textualists), the over professionalization of judicial nominations, and the contentious proposal of packing the court.  During their lively back and forth, Professor Sherry and Mr. Shapiro shared many moments of consensus, both acknowledging that while the Supreme Court is a vital part of our checks and balances system, it has fallen victim to, at least in part, the partisan politics plaguing the rest of our country’s institutions.

Though our experts argued for opposite positions, they demonstrated that a lively debate can be cordial even in particularly partisan times. All are welcome to view this highly informative debate recording on YouTube!

Debater Bios

Professor Sherry

Suzanna Sherry (’76) majored in History at Middlebury and then attended the University of Chicago Law School. After clerking for a federal Court of Appeals judge, she spent two years in practice with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin. She began teaching at the University of Minnesota Law School in 1982 and moved to the Vanderbilt University Law School, where she is the Herman O. Loewenstein Professor of Law, in 2000.

Professor Sherry’s scholarship focuses primarily on constitutional law, the federal courts, and federal-court litigation. Her work includes three co-authored books on constitutional theory: Judgment Calls: Separating Law From Politics in Constitutional Cases (2009); Desperately Seeking Certainty: The Misguided Quest for Constitutional Foundations (2002); and Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law (1997). She has also published more than 80 journal articles. Of particular interest to the topic of Supreme Court term limits are two recent articles: Term Limits and Turmoil: Roe v. Wade’s Whiplash, 98 Tex. L. Rev. 121 (2019) (with Christopher S. Sundby) and Our Kardashian Court (and How to Fix It), 106 Iowa L. Rev. 181 (2020)

Professor Sherry has also co-authored three law-school textbooks: Civil Procedure (5th edition, 2020), Federal Courts (8th edition, 2018), and A History of the American Constitution (3d edition, 2013), as well an introduction to law school, What Every Law Student Really Needs to Know: An Introduction to the Study of Law (3d edition 2019).

Mr. Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro is the director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and publisher of the Cato Supreme Court Review. Before joining Cato, he was a special assistant/​adviser to the Multi‐​National Force in Iraq on rule‐​of‐​law issues and practiced at Patton Boggs and Cleary Gottlieb.

Shapiro is the author of Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court (2020), co‐​author of Religious Liberties for Corporations? Hobby Lobby, the Affordable Care Act, and the Constitution (2014), and editor of 11 volumes of the Cato Supreme Court Review (2008–18). He has contributed to a variety of academic, popular, and professional publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, National Review, and Newsweek. He also regularly provides commentary for various media outlets, is a legal consultant to CBS News, and once appeared on the Colbert Report.

Shapiro has testified before Congress and state legislatures and has filed more than 400 amicus curiae “friend of the court” briefs in the Supreme Court, including one that The Green Bag selected for its “Exemplary Legal Writing” collection. He lectures regularly on behalf of the Federalist Society, was an inaugural Washington Fellow at the National Review Institute and a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute, and has been an adjunct law professor at the George Washington University and University of Mississippi. He is also the chairman of the board of advisors of the Mississippi Justice Institute, a barrister in the Edward Coke Appellate Inn of Court, and a member of the Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In 2015, National Law Journal named him to its 40 under 40 list of “rising stars.”

Before entering private practice, Shapiro clerked for Judge E. Grady Jolly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He holds an AB from Princeton University, an MSc from the London School of Economics, and a JD from the University of Chicago Law School (where he became a Tony Patiño Fellow).