'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.

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