The Fall Surge Is Here

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Public health experts have long been worried that the end of the summer — as some students returned to school and the weather cooled — would bring a surge in coronavirus cases.

That surge appears to have begun.

The number of new daily confirmed cases in the U.S. has jumped more than 15 percent in the past 10 days. It is the sharpest increase since the late spring, and it has arrived just before the official start of autumn, which is today.

Unlike the earlier summer surge in the U.S., this spike also coincides with a rising number of cases in other affluent countries, like Canada and much of Europe. The increases appeared to play a role in yesterday’s stock-market decline, as investors feared the need for new lockdowns.

Kings and queens have lifetime appointments. So do popes. But in advanced democracies, lifetime tenure for major government posts is exceedingly rare. Among the only examples: federal judges in the United States.

The Constitution established lifetime judicial appointments to insulate federal judges from undue influence from politicians and the public. “Life tenure allows judges to make hard and potentially unpopular decisions without fear of retribution,” Amy Steigerwalt of Georgia State University has explained.

But lifetime tenure has downsides. It introduces an element of randomness to the makeup of federal courts, causing them to be influenced by judges’ life spans as well as election results: Should the future of, say, abortion policy really rest on whether Ginsburg lived to age 87 or 88? Lifetime tenure can also create pitched political battles because the stakes are so high.

“That this much depends on the life and death of a single person,” Heinrich Wefing, a journalist at the German newspaper Die Zeit, wrote this weekend, “brutally and clearly shows the antiquated nature of the almost late-monarchical and certainly dysfunctional U.S. constitution.”

Some legal experts have instead suggested term limits. Others argue that judges should have mandatory retirement ages, as they do in Britain. Most legal scholars agree that mandating any such changes would require amending the Constitution, which conditions judges’ tenure only on “good behavior.” And as long as one political party thinks the current arrangement benefits it, as Republicans do now, change will be difficult.

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