Article III, Section 1:
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
Just as the phrase
high crimes and misdemeanors for impeachments was borrowed from English practice,1 so too was the term
good behavior borrowed from English law concerning the duration of a judge's tenure.2 Prior to 1701, the tenure of judges in England was established by the Crown, which often reserved the right to remove them.3 In 1701 Parliament passed legislation barring the Crown from removing judges, providing that they served
Quamdiu se bene gesserint,4 and reserved for itself the authority to remove judges.5 The standard of good behavior and insulation from removal by the Crown was mirrored in the constitutions of many American colonies6 and was advanced by various proposals at the Constitutional Convention.7
The Framers considered the provision that federal judges maintain their seats during good behavior an
excellent barrier against the risk of a legislature seeking to expand its power.8 Rather than serving at the pleasure of the President or Congress, the protection of judges' seats and salary for life ensured an independent judiciary that would not be unduly pressured by the political branches.9 Insulating federal judges from removal was crucial because the judiciary lacks the
sword of the executive power and the
purse of the legislature.10 Rather, the judicial power consists of the reasoning and
judgements of its officers.11 As the federal judiciary is in some ways the least powerful branch of the government, ensuring judges'
permanency in office was deemed essential to establishing an independent judiciary.12
Further, this independence armed the judiciary with the ability to defend and preserve a
limited constitution against legislative encroachments against the rights of citizens.13 In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton argued that federal judges must
guard the constitution and the rights of individuals against the possibility of laws that oppress political minorities.14 Likewise, federal judges must ensure that the law is applied justly and evenly to all citizens. If judges could be removed at will or were appointed for periodical amounts of time, judges would be tempted to consider popular opinion in their rulings to the detriment of the Constitution and the rights of political minorities.15