08/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Lifelong Tenure

Lifelong tenure of Supreme Court justices
fights the progress of all history with laws,
and yet we should not argue how unjust it is,
because delay of so-called progress makes us pause
before we legislate. If tenure would be shorter
we might ignore what all our predecessors had
decided, and throw out the baby with the water,
good precedents together with the bad.

Michiko Kakutani, in her review of Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court, by James MacGregor Burns ("Appointees Who Really Govern America," NYT, July 7) quotes the author as stating:

"Justices throughout the court's history have clung to their seats long after their political patrons have retired, and long after their patrons have yielded to their opponents or even disappeared. They had often perpetuated ideologies and attitudes that are outdated or that Aericans have repudiated at the ballot box." As a result, Mr. Burns concludes in this tough-minded book, "too often the Supreme Court has seemed to be fighting the progress of history."

This poem suggests that lifelong tenure may preserve the stability of society by putting a desirable brake on judicial activism.