A proposal to amend the state’s Constitution to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, said Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), prime sponsor of the measure.
“Forcing a judge to retire simply because he or she meets a certain age can actually be a detriment to the justice system because we lose that judge’s knowledge and experience on the bench,” Rep. Harper said. “I believe it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth to give capable judges the option to continue their service, and my legislation will ultimately put that question to the voters.”
Harper’s House Bill 90 seeks a ballot question to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to increase the mandatory retirement age for justices, judges and justices of the peace from 70 to 75.
Because it is a constitutional amendment, the same legislation must be adopted in two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly before it can be voted upon by the citizens of the Commonwealth. The identical measure passed both the House and Senate in 2013. If it passes both chambers again in the 2015-16 legislative session, it would be placed on the ballot for the voters to decide.
The Judiciary Committee on Tuesday also adopted House Bill 89 , which would implement the increased retirement age if the constitutional amendment is approved by voters.
Rep. Harper noted the current mandatory retirement age was put in place in 1968. Since that time, the average life expectancy has increased from age 70 to age 78, and many people are living well into their 80s and 90s.
At a public hearing on her proposal in 2013, a doctor testified about the mental acuity of older judges, noting that there is no sharp decline of mental functioning between age 70 and 75 and that the prevalence of dementia was relatively small.
Rep. Harper explained there are processes in place through the Judicial Conduct Board and the Court of Judicial Discipline to remove judges of any age who are no longer competent to serve.
Thirty-three states, plus the District of Columbia, require mandatory retirement of judges at ages ranging from 70-75. In addition to Pennsylvania, 16 other states are considering bills that address mandatory retirement, in most cases either to increase the age or to remove it. In the federal courts, there is no age limit for serving as a judge.
Currently there are several cases pending before state and federal courts filed by Pennsylvania judges approaching the age of 70. The primary argument is that the mandatory retirement age represents a violation of their civil rights.The bills now go to the full House for its consideration.