The PA Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous 6-0 decision Monday that the mandatory retirement age for Pennsylvania judges is constitutional.
The opinion, written by Justice Thomas G. Saylor, states that the limitation can not invalidated because it represented a form of age discrimination as asserted by the petitioners to the court.
“Certain societal circumstances may have changed since 1968 when the challenged provision was added to the Constitution – and, indeed, some of the original justifications for mandatory retirement may not have reflected the most fair or even the most beneficial public policy,” Saylor wrote.
However, “the proper approach of conforming the Constitution more closely with Petitioners’ vision of how experiential changes should be taken into account is to pursue further amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
The ruling will have a wide-ranging impact on the very Supreme Court which handed down the decision as five of the six sitting justices are currently 62 years of age or older. Most prominently, Chief Justice Ron Castille, who was first elected in 1993 is 69 and will be forced to step down next year despite the fact that he is seeking retention this year.
The age limit was adopted during a limited constitutional convention in 1968, the first time the document was changed since 1874. As the majority opinion noted this change was ratified by the voters after the convention adopted it.
During oral arguments, the justices seemed to suggest that it would be improper for them to declare a part of the state’s constitution invalid and Justice Michael Eakin proposed that pursuing an amendment through the State Legislature was the only avenue available.
The process of amending the state Constitution, however, is a lengthy one. It would require the majority vote of both the House and the Senate in two back-to-back sessions and the approval of the electorate by referendum at least three months afterward.
Bills have been introduced in both chambers of the state legislature to increase the age to 75.