Monday, August 3, 2015

Judging for the Ages

PA's Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on whether the state's mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges is or is not constitutional.

Judging for the Ages


As if Pennsylvania's Supreme Court doesn't have enough to deal with it now has agreed to take on a case involving the future of its -- and every other courts' -- judges.

The Associated Press reports that a one-page court order released Thursday says the Supremes will hear arguments in May on a lawsuit challenging the state constitution's requirement that judges retire at age 70.

This comes at a time the court is juggling or getting ready to juggle critical cases related to fracking, legislative redistricting, voter ID and more.

It comes amid infighting on the court and controversy involving alleged ticket-fixing and possible ethical shortcomings.

And it comes as Chief Justice Ron Castille is running for a 10-year extension despite the fact he's 69.

It also comes as the court is down one justice due to the resignation of Justice Joan Orie Melvin who was convicted last month on public corruption charges.

Gov. Corbett can appoint a replacement anytime within 90 days after May 1, the date Melvin's resignation takes effect. Such appointment requires two-thirds Senate confirmation.

So unless the court itself acts to name an interim judge (as was done following the impeachment of Justice Rolf Larsen in 1994), the May argument on the age case could be heard by six rather than seven justices.

And, as I wrote in a column last November, if you're thinking, hey, how do justices get to rule on their own futures, well, there's a reason.

The judicial "rule of necessity" allows judges to hear cases that can impact them if there is no other way such cases can be heard.

So all justices, including Castille, could rule on this case before the November elections in which Castille -- in a yes/no ballot question -- asks voters to retain him for another 10 years.

Most states (34) have mandatory retirement. Ohio voters in 2011 roundly defeated a measure to extend judicial retirement from 70 to 75. And the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to manadatory retirement back in 1991.

But this is Pennsylvania. Whaddya bet our court rules in favor of older judges on the bench?

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

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

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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