Two Florida politicians will pay key roles in a new effort to establish term limits for U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Alan Cohn, a congressional candidate last year, led a press conference this week for Term Limit the Court. The Tampa Democrat serves as the new organization’s CEO. Meanwhile, suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren is also working with the group.
The organization wants Congress to limit the tenure of Justices on the highest court in the land.
“If you look at any public opinion poll, people support the idea of limiting Supreme Court tenure,” Cohn said. “We’re at a time when the Supreme Court has the lowest approval ratings in its history.”
An AP-NORC poll released last year showed about 67% of Americans, including 82% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans, favored term limits for Justices.
Right now, Term Limit the Court is rallying around legislation filed by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat. The bill would impose 18-year term limits and ultimately stagger terms of the nine sitting Justices so a new appointment happens every two years.
While Democrats are promoting the bill in Congress, Warren ultimately sees the legislation as a bipartisan solution. The proposal pulls its structure from a report issued by the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States in 2021. That report didn’t take a stance on term limits, but laid out options that would reduce the politicization of judicial appointments.
“The majority of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, support this issue,” Warren said. “Making sure that their representatives in Congress accurately represent their will and their desire when it comes to this is an entirely different matter.”
That’s where the new group plans to step in. The organization operates as a 501(c)(4) civic organization, not as a PAC or formal campaign. It will educate the public and lawmakers about the nature of the proposal.
The effort notably starts at a time of high scrutiny on multiple members of the court, in particular Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In April, ProPublica published an exhaustive report on gifts the Justice received from Republican donor Harlan Crow, including trips on the billionaire’s yacht and school tuition for the justice’s grandnephew.
Since that was published, the media has hounded Thomas and other Justices over generous and often undisclosed gifts from groups and individuals with business before the court.
“What we seek is a remedy to the problem that Justices have created for themselves,” Cohn said at the Wednesday press conference.
But Cohn told Florida Politics the term limits concept predates the recent scandals.
“We’ve been working on this for a substantially longer period of time,” he said. “I really believe this came out of the frustration that many people on both sides of the aisle have in terms of the court not being reflective of public opinion.”
The greatest example of that, he said, came with last year’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a decades-old Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights.
“They sit on the court for so many decades that they are detached from where Americans are, to the point they are taking away rights that American women have enjoyed for 50 years,” he said.
Of note, that decision came after former President Donald Trump in a single term appointed three justices — Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett — who joined Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority in Hobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization.
Warren noted the current proposal in Congress would eliminate concerns of a single administration having too much power in shaping the court.
“Right now, appointments for court are made essentially at random, based on a Justice’s retirement or death,” he said. “This would create consistency where every President basically gets to appoint two Justices a term. So if Republicans win the presidency and win five elections in a row, then they’ll get to appoint 10 Justices in a row.”
Of note in Florida, both Cohn and Warren over the past year were involved in high-profile political battles.
Cohn won the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, and lost in the battleground race to Republican Laurel Lee. He’s a contender to run again in 2024.
“We’ll announce our political moves in the near future,” Cohn said.
Warren, meanwhile, was controversially suspended last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a decision he is continuing to appeal after the Florida Supreme Court rebuffed a request to be reinstated. He hasn’t decided if he will run for a third term.
“While fighting this unlawful suspension, I’ve been working on a variety of issues around the country in order to protect our democratic institutions and ensure that the rule of law is followed,” Warren said.