Vote yes to let judges serve until age 80

Proposition 6 is the last question New Yorkers will be asked on their ballots on Nov. 5. It’s a state constitutional amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age for state judges from 70 to 80. We recommend you vote yes.

Currently, elected judges can get three two-year extensions to serve until a maximum age of 76, as long as they’re healthy. For appointed judges, however, like those on the state Court of Appeals, 70 is the firm cutoff. That forced former Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye to retire in 2008, even though she said she wasn’t ready to. She continues to have a productive career in private legal practice.

How many other 70-somethings do you know who continue to have their act together enough to continue careers and, in some cases, to be better than ever at their jobs? We know many and see no reason to force them out to pasture.

Of all jobs, this is one that requires wisdom and insight – qualities traditionally seen as increasing as one ages, as long as dementia or other ailments are held at bay. Certainly a 70-year-old judge who’s completed his or her term is entitled to retire, if desired, but if not, it shouldn’t be mandated.

This is especially true now that people are living so much longer than in 1869, when the age cap was passed. It’s an outdated law that’s due for a change. Today’s 70 is probably 1869’s 55.

Thirty-two states plus Washington, D.C., have mandatory retirement ages for judges, mostly instituted at a time when there was not yet a process for getting rid of judges who were in mental or physical decline.

There is no age limit for New York legislators, governors or heads of state agencies; they can hold their jobs until they die. Why judges?

Plus, it’s generally more expensive for taxpayers to force a state employee to retire and draw a pension, only to be replaced by another salaried employee. We’re paying them either way – a pension or a salary – and if they want to keep giving the people their hard work in return for the money, why stop them?

Some Republicans took issue with the timing of this amendment, since it would allow Jonathan Lippman, the current chief judge of the Court of Appeals and a reliable liberal, to continue after he turns 70 in May 2015. This is not just about him, though. The Office of Court Administration estimates that it might let up to 40 judges remain on the bench within the next four years. Over the ensuing decades, it may affect hundreds of judges, of all predispositions.

The New York City Bar Association adds another reason to vote yes: “Despite growing caseloads, the number of positions authorized for trial level judges has remained constant and there is little prospect that more positions will be authorized. By ensuring that experienced, productive judges continue to serve, the amendment provides the clearest path to increase judicial capacity in the foreseeable future.”

We’re not sure an age cap for judges is necessary at all, but if it can’t be eliminated, it should be pushed back.