Origins of the Federal Court System

Judicial Review and Judicial Independence

Why did the Constitution give federal judges life tenure?

The framers gave life tenure to federal judges to ensure an independent judiciary, a judiciary that would not bow to the political pressures of the day. Federal judges often have to make difficult decisions that a significant segment of the public may question quite critically. For this reason, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers (#78) that “the complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution.”

Alexander Hamilton stated (from #78): “If then the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit of judges, which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty.”

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first secretary of the Treasury, recommended that Supreme Court justices receive life tenure in order to ensure “complete independence of the courts.” Library of Congress.

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