Sorry for the non-descriptive title, but while I was typing a more descriptive one I realized it was going to be overly long.

My understanding of the USSC appointments is that

  • they are for life
  • only the US President can appoint a new member
  • only the Senate can confirm the appointments

and this comes from the US Constitution.

As a comparison, I have the Italian top Constitutional Court

  • appointments are with a term (9 years, single-term)
  • to maintain balance within the three branches of government, each branch appoints a third of the members (with the President being part of the Executive branch)

This also is detailed in the Italian Constitution.

What has been the political discussion/process that has brought the US to the current rather than other processes?

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    Why do you think the Italian (or any other) system should have been adopted? There's no incentive needed to keep the status quo and your question does not seem to address an incentive to change it. – DonFusili Sep 18 at 9:18
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    @DonFusili I am not attempting to say that. I am asking why /how the US got their current status quo. – Federico Sep 18 at 9:24
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    John Oliver in his most recent episode pointed out how US SCOTUS terms (at what point judges would voluntarily retire on their own accord) and even the general understanding of "lifetime" has changed since the time of the Founders. The US is, indeed, unique in this respect, but perhaps a better question is why doesn't anyone try to change it, vs how it came to be, given the differing circumstances now. So I guess I differ from the opinions above. – PoloHoleSet Sep 19 at 15:04

The Constitution of the United States of America was created no just for the majority interest, but also for the minority interest.

The founders cared a lot about not creating too strong of a federal government, but also did not want to create too weak of a federal government as the government had essentially failed under the Articles of Confederation. To prevent a future failure the founders generally erred on the side of caution (stronger government), but put checks in the system to prevent abuse.

The Judicial Branch was not seen as that strong of a branch. It was not given the power to spend money nor to exercise force (technically bailiffs are court officers but this is not much). For example, the U.S. Marshals are an agency of the Executive Branch and are tasked with enforcing the Judicial rulings of the United States; however, this power is checked by the President as they are part of the Executive.

In recognition of this inherent weakness of the Judicial Branch, while at the same time importance of the branch in preserving liberty, Justices and Judges were given lifetime appointment. This allows them to withstand political pressures of the day and remain concerned with interpreting the law in an independent and just manner.

There is also a sense of finality to the Supreme Court. Once an issue is decided it remains the law of the land unless there is a constitutional amendment (not exactly that in practice, but in theory).

The reason something similar to the Italian system was not adopted was because then a sufficiently motivated political alliance would be able to change the judges to their favor in a relatively small amount of time (9 years). The idea in the courts was not to balance the separate branches, but to create an entirely different branch composed from judges chosen by different administrations and in a sense generations.

In the United States this system allows the Justices of the Supreme Court and other courts to remain independent and most importantly issue relatively stable rulings throughout the years.

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    This answer could be improved by providing some sources for these statements. – Philipp Sep 18 at 15:25
  • @Philipp I am a bit busy at this moment, but will try to update within the next few days. – Viktor Sep 18 at 23:23

In the U.S. all federal judges serve lifetime appointments. The reasoning behind this is to encourage judges to be more impartial in their rulings since they don't have to campaign for reappointment/election. This is somewhat successful if surprising or unpopular rulings are used as a metric, a recent example being John Roberts upholding Obamacare.

The reason judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate is to maintain the system of checks and balances within the branches of government. The other branches both have power over who becomes part of the judicial branch, and the judicial branch can overrule laws and polices or the legislative and executive branches. The Senate was originally intended to be a more direct representation of the States as a whole rather than the people like the house of representatives. This was changed with the seventeenth amendment so that Senators were also elected by the people, but the role of the senate was left intact. The original intent of the Senate was to be a more state focused body with a longer term outlook than the house, that wouldn't be as reactionary as the house which more directly represented the will of the people. This design was borrowed heavily from the British Parliament where the House of Lords is roughly analogous to the Senate. The President and Senate were chosen to isolate the choice of judges from being too closely controlled by the people.

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    "they don't have to campaign for reappointment/election" Ok, apparently I am missing some context here. In Italy no judge will ever campaign for that, as it does not exist. (and for the top court the problem is solved by being a single-term appointment with no possibility of re-appointment). Could you expand on why that has been chosen as a solution to that problem? – Federico Sep 18 at 12:56
  • In a common law system, such as the US, judges may be elected to the position by the people. In fact, most states have elected judiciary or mixed appointment/elected Judiciary. The lack of this at a Federal Level means that the Judge is not beholden to a political ideology that would cause him/her to rule in favor of political parites. While SCOTUS does have a 5-4 conservative lean, they are about the only government branch where frequent decisions against the party occurs in a clear majority. – hszmv Sep 18 at 14:03
  • This also has resulted in some admiral Friendships as SCOTUS frequently work together and talk to each other and value their opposite numbers opinions. In one of the courts more notable examples of this, liberal Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and conservative late Justice Antony Scallia were best of friends and spent a lot of time together off hours (they both loved the opera and would go to shows together). When the decisions were close, they rarely agreed. Another example is the courts tend to be universal in the decisions on matters of overreaches of power by congress and the president. – hszmv Sep 18 at 14:09
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    @Federico It's worth remembering that the authors of the US constitution were not handed the Italian constitution and asked to make changes to it (the US constitution is about 150 years older). The lifetime term of US federal judges is intended to prevent the other branches from stacking the court. – Deolater Sep 18 at 14:15
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    @Deolater An intent which was easily circumvented, as judges and Justices can just strategically retire, making it in principle relatively easy to ensure a particular ideological balance almost in perpetuity (the randomness of death is the spanner in the works, though as we learned from McConnell that's easily circumvented too). – zibadawa timmy Sep 18 at 15:59

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