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Key Excerpt: Kohl and Sotomayor on Term Limits for Judges

CQ Transcriptions

KOHL: All right. Judge, all of us in public office, other than federal judges, have specific fixed terms. And we must periodically run for reelection if you want to remain in office. Even most state court judges have fixed terms of office.

The federal judiciary, as you know, is very different. You have no term of office. Instead you serve for life. So I'd like to ask you -- would you support term limits for Supreme Court justices, for example, 15, 20 or 25 years? Would this help ensure that justices do not become victims of a cloistered, ivory tower existence and that you will be able to stay in touch with the problems of ordinary Americans -- term limits for Supreme Court justices?

SOTOMAYOR: All questions of policy are within the providence of Congress first. And so, that particular question would have to be considered by Congress first. But it'd have to consider it in light of the Constitution and then of statutes that govern these issues. And so, that first step and decision would be Congress'.

I can only know that there was a purpose to the structure of our Constitution. And it was a view by the -- by the founding fathers that they wanted justices who would not be subject to political whim or to the emotions of a moment. And they felt that by giving them certain protections that that would ensure that -- their objectivity and their impartiality over time.

KOHL: Sure.

SOTOMAYOR: I do know, having served with many of my colleagues who have been members of the court, sometimes for decades -- I had one colleague who was still an active member of the court in his 90s. And at close to 90, he was learning the Internet and encouraging my colleagues of a much younger age to participate in learning the Internet.

So I don't think that it's service or the length of time. I think there is wisdom that comes to judges from their experience that helps them in the process over time. I think in the end it is a question of one of what the structure of our government is best served by. And as I said, that policy question will be considered first by Congress and the processes set forth by the Constitution. But I do think there is a value in the services of judges for long periods of time.

Read the entire exchange between Sen. Kohl and Judge Sotomayor.

By  |  July 14, 2009; 11:39 AM ET
Categories:  Hearings , Supreme Court  
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