While few if any states place age limitations on the ability of members of the legislative or executive branches to serve, most states impose age limitations on their jurists. Several state legislatures however have begun to reexamine the subject.
The Texas legislature approved in 2007 a constitutional amendment to allow a jurist who reaches the mandatory age of retirement while in office to complete the justice’s or judge’s current term. Some 75% of Texas voters approved the amendment in November 2007. Both Arizona and New Jersey considered raising their retirement ages from 70 to 75, but neither bill proceeded out of their originating chamber. A Virginia bill which would also have increased the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 was approved by the Senate only. A proposed committee amendment to remove the limit altogether failed because as a Senator in opposition put it “I know some judges who are so committed to practice they’d never retire.” Washington State is considering lifting the retirement age altogether as well. That bill and its corresponding constitutional amendment were approved by the House Judiciary committee in 2007 and remain active in 2008.
It’s going to be a blockbuster year in the world of judicial elections, with more than 40 seats on state high courts potentially on the ballot by the time the November general election rolls around. It’s also shaping up to be an active year for ballot measures that seek to play politics with the courts. None of the proposals so far rival the outrageous 2006 “JAIL 4 Judges” measure that lost in a landslide in South Dakota – but the year is early yet. Here is what we do know about, thus far. Reports out of Colorado indicate that another effort will be made to impose term limits on every judge in the state (a modified version of the 2006 proposal that Colorado voters defeated by 14 points). Voters in Johnson County, Kansas, will be deciding whether to keep a merit selection system for their local judges. In Oregon, a proposal had been floated to strip incumbents of their designation as such on the ballot – but that measure was withdrawn recently (hat tip to DOL for pointing out to me that this one was rescinded). The great unknown in 2008 is Missouri, where critics of the state’s merit selection system have promised to take their gripes to the people via ballot measure (the Missourians might want to read our poll before setting out to gather signatures).