The problem of an aging judiciary extends beyond the Supreme Court to the hundreds of elderly federal judges across the country. The average age of these jurists is now over 70, with many in their 80s and 90s. The 94 U.S. district courts and 13 courts of appeals decide more than 98% of all cases with federal jurisdiction, so the continued mental acuity of these jurists should be a concern for all of us who use interstate commerce or expect due process.Our district has gotten a lot younger recently. What judge would you rather appear before -- old or young?
If there's a silver lining, no pun intended, it's that some of these jurisdictions have implemented programs to promote sharpness in judges as they age. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, for instance, offers a battery of mental health assessments, hosts discussions with neurological experts and has created a hotline where staff may report signs of cognitive decline in their colleagues. Such measures are necessary because it's hard for friends and family members, let alone the individual in question, to know if a tendency to, say, forget one's keys is innocuous, or portentous.
Unfortunately, the 9th Circuit program and a handful of others across the country exist in isolation, as there is no judiciary-wide strategy to cope with cognitive decline. That should change. Chief Justice Roberts should use his authority as head of the federal judiciary to require his high court colleagues and others to undergo regular mental health checkups.
Further, he could recommend a judicial retirement age of 70 or 75, as is done in the rest of the Western world. He and future nominees to the bench could even pledge to serve for no more than 18 years, as has been suggested by constitutional scholars and interest groups on the left and right as a reasonable limit on judicial tenure.
Our court system and the law benefit from the wisdom of judges with many years of experience. But the federal judiciary, especially given congressional dysfunction, is simply too important to leave in the hands of old fogeys.
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
It's a very old Supreme Court
Four Justice are older than 75. This op-ed wonders whether that's a problem. It certainly will be a big deal for the next President. From the conclusion: