On Tuesday, Pennsylvania voters will be asked to decide whether to amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Judicial Retirement Age Amendment (2016) ballot question will be worded thusly:
Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges, and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years?
It is deceptively straightforward. If you don’t know any better, you might assume judges are never required to retire, as is the case in the Federal courts. You would be incorrect. The Pennsylvania Constitution, Article V, Section 16(b), currently requires judges to retire at age 70. This amendment would raise the age to 75.
I am sympathetic to the proposal. As a litigator and trial lawyer, I have known several judges who were still excellent jurists at age 70, and who could have served for years into their seventies. By rights, I should be in favor of this idea. I am not.
On the substantive question: there’s nothing special about any particular judge. They are just men and women in robes. Some are better than others. When one retires, we elect another. If we choose wisely, we choose another wise person. Thus it is as with all things.
On the procedural issue: the process of putting the question on the ballot has been an embarrassment. In a state that has recently seen its Attorney General jailed as a Felon and perjurer; where several senior legislators have been removed from office for corruption; and where two Supreme Court Justices were forced to step down for ethical lapses involving lewd and racist emails, you would think we would be more sensitive to issues of process and transparency.
You would think that.
Treachery and subterfuge should not be rewarded. For this and many other reasons, I will vote NO on the Ballot Question. It fixes a problem we do not have.