Philly NOW & PA NOW Statement on Raising the Retirement Age for Judges

Philadelphia NOW and Pennsylvania NOW oppose the proposal on the 2016 primary ballot to raise the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75. Keeping the mandatory retirement age at 70 at least ensures that there is some chance of turnover, other than by death or resignation.

Judges routinely win retention elections despite well-publicized examples of incompetent, corrupt behavior. Mandatory retirement at 70 is one of our fewopportunities to get rid of these judges and make room for candidates who bring new perspectives and experiences to the bench. (Judges have the opportunity to work part-time in retirement, so those who have much to offer can continue to do so on a part-time basis.)

But there’s another more urgent reason to reject this bill. The cohort of judges now reaching 70 are much more likely to be white, male and heterosexual than the pool of potential judges, now in their 30’s and 40’s. (It’s only relatively recently that open LGBTQ candidates have run for and won judicial seats.)

A recent report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) documents the lack of judicial diversity: “In many states, the judges do not look like the defendants and plaintiffs who stand in front of them… that glaring lack of diversity calls into question the overall fairness of our justice system.” Moreover, recent scandals have undermined public confidence in the judiciary by revealing a widespread tolerance for racist and misogynistic emails.

If the retirement age is raised, there is real danger that we will delay the transformation of the judiciary into something more closely resembling what America now looks like. Maintaining the current retirement age does not of course solve the problem of a judiciary that does not reflect the citizenry, but at least it doesn’t freeze the current judiciary in place.