Inquirer Letters Extra: Don't fit judges for gold watch yet

The Inquirer Editorial Board should rethink its rush to judgment in opposing several lawsuits filed by Pennsylvania judges challenging the mandatory retirement provision of the state constitution as unlawful age discrimination ("Court guilty of age denial," April 18).

Judges are the only elected or appointed officials in Pennsylvania subject to mandatory retirement. And while it is true, as the recent editorial stated, that "some are bound to cling to office longer than they should," the constitution provides a mechanism for removing judges incapacitated for any number of reasons, including age.

The issue before the state Supreme Court is a straightforward one, and a purely legal one. Hence, it makes sense for the court to decide it, rather than let it percolate in the lower courts for several years. One can be cynical that a number of justices could be affected by the decision, but the simple truth is that they have an obligation to decide legal questions and will always be exposed to cynical reactions when doing their jobs.

My commentary in the Morning Call of Allentown referenced in The Inquirer was a response to an opinion piece by another lawyer. That lawyer had opined that judges bringing these lawsuits should not do so because there was long-standing precedent against their position. As counsel to 11 lower-court judges who are suing, I merely pointed out that precedent is frequently overturned - especially when the passage of time has shown that the facts, law, and equities require a reversal.

Finally, there does seem to be some legislative movement, both in Harrisburg and elsewhere, to change or eliminate these retirement provisions. Unfortunately, constitutional change can be a daunting process. A good example is the effort for judicial merit selection. Maybe a constitutional amendment eliminating mandatory retirement for judges will happen soon, but these plaintiffs are entitled to their day in court now for the discrimination they confront.

Robert C. Heim, Philadelphia


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