'While There's a Breath in My Body': The Systemic Effects of Politically Motivated Retirement from the Supreme Court
40 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2010
Date Written: November 1, 2010
Many observers of the U.S. Supreme Court suspect that justices time their departures from the Court based on ideological and political factors. This paper assesses the theoretical effects of such behavior. Does political timing of retirement devalue the appointment process and thereby make the Court less responsive to the public? Do politically motivated retirements lead to more justices serving beyond their productive years? Based on a formal model of retirements, we find that politically motivated retirements have little effect on political influence on the Court because, on average, for every liberal justice who declines to retire because there is a Republican president, there is a conservative justice who retires early because there is a Republican president. The model also implies modest, but non-linear effects of politically motivated retirement on the age composition of the Court as small amounts of such behavior leads to an older Court, but large amounts of politically motivated behavior lead to a younger Court. Imposing term limits on justices would increase responsiveness to electoral outcomes, lower the age of justices and dramatically increase Court turnover.
Keywords: Supreme Court, Retirement, Positive Political Theory
JEL Classification: C15, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation