Tuesday, December 1, 2015

'Geezers with gavels' still alive

Efforts to end the PA's mandatory retirement of judges at age 70 remains in play two ways.

'Geezers with gavels' still alive


Despite the fact the state Supreme Court recently and unanimously rejected litigation to change the state's constitutionally-mandated retirement of judges at age 70, the issue lives on in two ways.

First, a federal lawsuit that essentially mirrors the arguments rejected by the state's high court, is now re-animated.

U.S. Middle District Judge John Jones lifted a stay on the suit that he imposed awating the Supreme Court decision. That means action resumes.

The federal suit was brought by three judges, including Philadelphia Judges Benjamin Lerner and John Herron, who name Gov. Corbett as lead defendant.

Corbett has asked the federal judge to toss the case, and Jones has given Lerner, et al, 30 days to respond to Corbett's motion.

The judges seeking to overturn the retirement mandate argue the requirement amounts to age discrimination and violates basic constitutional rights.

The second front against the requirement advanced in the state House late last week with little notice.

Amid the rush to pass a new state budget -- and intense but failed efforts to get liquor privatization, pension reform and new transportation funding -- the House last Friday passed a bill that would raise the retirement age from 70 to 75 by amending the constitution.

That bill faces Senate action when the Legislature returns from summer break in late September.

But that's the long road. Even if the Senate agrees with the House, the measure would also have to pass both chambers in the next session of the Legislature which starts in 2015, and then go before state voters in a referendum.

The issue holds validity on both sides: clearly many people 70 and older are fully capable of serving as full-time judges; clearly the state constitution says they can't. And, honestly, there are judges who lose their edge even before 70.

But while voters in other states such as Ohio have rejected extending the retirement age, I see nothing wrong with the legislative effort going forward to allow Pennsylvania voters to decide the issue.

That's a far better approach than arguing in court that our constitution is unconstitutional.


Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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