This excerpt is from a piece that originally ran on December 16, 2022.
Since the Constitution was drafted in 1787, life expectancy in the United States has doubled (from 38 to 76 years for white men, for example). This means that Supreme Court justices appointed for lifetime terms are far more likely to serve literal lifetimes. This is not what the Founding Fathers would have imagined — or what most modern Americans want.
Because of these longer tenures with unpredictable endings, power is far more concentrated among a small number of individuals. Judicial vacancies are rarer and, as a result, far more politically divisive. Presidents are not guaranteed an opportunity to appoint a justice. When they do, they place far more emphasis on selecting justices who will be politically sympathetic to their goals.