Should oldest Supreme Court justices retire? Americans agree on at least one, poll finds

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A large share of Americans believe Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor — the three oldest members of the court — should retire, new polling shows.

In an April 17 poll by The Economist/YouGov, a majority of respondents, 53%, said Thomas should step down, while 26% said he should remain on the bench and 21% said they weren’t sure.

The poll, conducted between April 14 and 16, sampled 1,574 respondents and has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

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Thomas, 75, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and is the longest serving member of the court. He is often considered among the most conservative members on the bench — and has recently faced scrutiny over undisclosed luxury trips he was taken on by a wealthy Republican donor.

Thomas has been absent from court proceedings several times in recent years, most recently on April 15, when he missed oral arguments without providing a reason. He was missing from court for a few days in March 2022 when he was hospitalized with “flu-like symptoms.”

The poll also found that 46% of respondents believe Alito, 74, should retire, while 25% said he should remain on the court and 28% said they were unsure.

Alito, seen as one of the more conservative members of the court, was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005.

Additionally, 31% of respondents said Sotomayor, 69, should step down, while 40% said she should not and 29% said they did not know.

Sotomayor was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and is viewed as one of the most liberal members of the court. She has also faced some criticism over allegations that her staff coaxed universities seeking to host her for speaking engagements to purchase her books.

Like Thomas, she has had at least one health scare. In January 2018, paramedics were dispatched to her home after experiencing “symptoms of low blood sugar,” a court spokesperson told Politico.

Sotomayor, who has Type 1 diabetes, also traveled with a medic on at least one occasion, according to a February report from the Huffington Post.

In recent weeks, some pundits and activists have called on her to retire before the November election to ensure her seat is filled by President Joe Biden.

The other six members of the court were not included in the survey.

In addition, respondents were asked about the circumstances in which justices should retire.

A small fraction, 5%, agreed that a justice should step down “based on the president’s political party” — a move that could help shift the ideology of the court in the president’s favor.

About one-third, 32%, of respondents agreed with the statement that “justices should consider the president’s political party when they retire, but it shouldn’t be the only thing they consider.”

And a plurality of respondents, 38%, agreed with the statement that “justices should not consider the president’s political party when they retire.”

Respondents were also asked whether the justices should have mandatory retirement ages — as opposed to the lifetime tenures they currently serve.

Around half, 48%, said there should be a mandatory retirement age, though there was disagreement about at what age it should take effect. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said there should be no required retirement age, and 24% said they were not sure.

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