– Pennsylvania voters would have the opportunity to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges in the Commonwealth under legislation sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) and approved by the House on Tuesday.
House Bill 90
proposes an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to increase the mandatory retirement age for justices, judges and justices of the peace from age 70 to age 75. In order to amend the constitution, the same legislation must be adopted in two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly before it can be voted upon by the citizens of the Commonwealth. The identical measure passed both the House and Senate in 2013. If it passes both chambers again in the 2015-16 legislative session, it would be placed on the ballot for the voters to decide.
“If you are a Major League baseball player, you should probably think about retiring before you are 70 years old because you need vast physical skills that do decline with age,” Harper said. “However, if you are a judge, your years on the bench – even your years on the earth – furnish you with a wealth of experiences and life lessons that can only make the quality of judging better.
“In short, for many judges, years on the bench help them develop wisdom, and help them be better judges. And the Commonwealth is the poorer if they are forced to retire. The quality of justice in the Commonwealth is enriched by older, wiser, experienced judging,” she added.
Harper noted an increase in the retirement age would also offer women jurists the opportunity for longer service, as many come to the bench later in their careers due to family responsibilities.
The current mandatory retirement age was put in place in 1968. Since that time, the average life expectancy has increased from age 70 to age 78, and many people are living well into their 80s and 90s.
At a public hearing on her proposal in 2013, a doctor testified about the mental acuity of older judges, noting that there is no sharp decline of mental functioning between age 70 and 75 and that the prevalence of dementia was relatively small.
“If there ever is a problem with an individual judge, we have a mechanism in place to take care of that,” Harper said, pointing to processes available through the Judicial Conduct Board and the Court of Judicial Discipline to remove judges of any age who are no longer competent to serve.
The House also approved House Bill 89, which would implement the increased retirement age in the event the constitutional amendment is approved by voters.
The bills now go to the Senate.
Representative Kate Harper
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Rep. Harper’s Blue Bell Office