Let's vote on it
As the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution, Pennsylvania is steeped in the concept of equal justice under the law. But some folks seem more equal than others.
Last week six Pennsylvania judges filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court challenging the state constitutional mandate for judges to retire at 70. But don't wait for a Commonwealth Court hearing; the state Supreme Court immediately took jurisdiction.
The lawsuit itself makes a fundamentally logical argument. Why should the constitution require judges to retire at 70 when it makes no such demand of any other public official?
But the problem isn't legal, it's ethical, as pointed out recently by John Baer of The Daily News, Philadelphia.
Any judge who hears the case has an inherent conflict of interest because he could benefit financially from his own decision. The decision would cover about 1,100 judges statewide.
Timing also is in play. The constitutional provision has been on the books since 1968, yet it only has come up now. Part of that undoubtedly is due to the advancing age of the population and because people in a wide array of professions no longer plan to retire in the conventional sense. People are living longer and, generally, they are healthier at older ages than were their predecessors. So, agreed - 70 is an arbitrary number that doesn't speak to whether judges can serve effectively beyond that age. Indeed, many judges continue as part-time senior judges.
Timing is interesting in another way: Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille is 69 and pondering whether to seek retention next year.
Judges are allowed to hear cases involving the courts or themselves when no other forum is available. But in this case, the better forum is the state constitution itself. The question of whether to amend it regarding judges should be decided by a vote of Pennsylvanians, rather than by judges with direct interests in the outcome.