State House lawmakers are considering a proposal to increase Pennsylvania’s mandatory retirement age for judges by five years.The state Constitution requires judges to retire at 70 years old, though they may continue serving as semiretired senior judges.
As life expectancy increases, the cutoff is looking outdated, said state Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery.
She acknowledges the concerns of some that older judges may develop Alzheimer’s or dementia or another condition that could affect their judgment.
“However, I do not believe we need a hard and fast rule that bars everyone from over the age of 70 from serving,” Harper said Thursday. “That’s why we have a Judicial Conduct Board.”
Harper’s legislation would create a new hard and fast rule — to force Pennsylvania judges to retire at the age of 75.
That sounds about right to Ken Gormley, dean of the Duquesne University School of Law.
He says a 75-year age limit sets the right balance — anything beyond that, he says, would put too firm a clamp on new blood coming into the judicial branch. “I’m extremely sensitive to the fact that younger men and women entering the profession need to have an opportunity to advance and ultimately to have a chance to serve the commonwealth through the election or appointment as a judge, ” he said.
A Senate bill would abolish the age limit for state judges completely.
Neither the Pennsylvania Bar Association nor court reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts have taken a position on the measure.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in one case next month.