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Pennsylvania Judges Sue Over Mandatory Retirement Provision



The challenge could have national implications. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia enforce age limits for at least some of their judges.

Six Pennsylvania judges filed suit Wednesday, alleging that the state retirement age of 70 for members of the bench violates the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Standing in their way is a 1990 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Gregory v. Ashcroft, that upheld a similar mandatory retirement requirement in Missouri. But the judges and their lawyers are hoping that advances in medicine, new research on aging and evolving law on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause will help them sustain their challenge.

The challenge could have national implications. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia enforce age limits for at least some of their judges, according to the National Center for State Courts.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, cites new evidence that the prevalence of  cognitive impairment in older Americans has decreased, even since the early 1990s.

“Notwithstanding the United States Supreme Court’s decision a generation, ago inGregory v. Ashcroft…societal and demographic changes demonstrate that this precedent should no longer obtain,” the complaint says.

In Pennsylvania, judges are elected to 10-year terms. They make between $169,541 and $195,309 a year until they turn 70, at which point they may continue to serve as senior judges but make considerably less and receive no paid sick days, paid vacation or life insurance benefits.

The lawsuit makes the case that the judges enjoy a fundamental right to work, and that the mandatory retirement provision violates their equal protection and due process rights under the 14th Amendment.

The plaintiffs are Westmoreland County Court Judge John Driscoll, Northampton County Court Judge Leonard N. Zito, and Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judges John W. Herron, Benjamin Lerner, Sandra Mazer Moss, and Joseph D. O’Keefe. Gov. Corbett and three state officials are named as defendants in the suit, filed in Commonwealth Court.

 

 

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