Mandatory judicial retirement under fire in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s mandatory judicial retirement provision is now being challenged in state court, federal court, and in the Pennsylvania house and senate.
House Bill 79, introduced on January 10, would raise the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 to 75, whereas Senate Bill 85 seeks to eliminate the mandatory age altogether.
The primary sponsors of both bills point to the inherent desire for fairness in public and judicial systems and regulations, with the House’s primary sponsor, Rep. Harper (R-Montgomery) frankly arguing that the requirements for mandatory retirement are “not a fair way to judge a person’s fitness for a job.”
Sen. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery/Bucks), similarly contends that forced retirement is “[a]rguably … a form of discrimination not applied to other public officials,” further noting that the constitution already alternatively allows for judicial removal based on mental or physical disability.
Likewise, several judges have filed suit arguing that further Pennsylvania constitutional provisions and rules are in place that would allow for proper removal of judges in the event of deteriorating sensibilities or failure to perform one’s duties.
Originally filed together in state court, following removal to federal court at the request of state Attorney General’s office, three of the judges will remain in federal court to argue federal claims based on the Age Discrimination Employment Act and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, while the other three judges have voluntarily withdrawn in order to re-file claims in state court concerning state constitutional claims.
Two other judges, Fayette County Senior Judge Gerald R. Solomon and Montgomery County Judge Arthur Tilson have also filed claims, recently splitting into a relevant federal claim in federal court and a pertinent state claim in Pennsylvania court.
Although the United States Supreme Court’s 1991 precedent, Gregory v. Ashcroft, stands in the way of such a challenge, the judges’ complaint assuredly urges that “Societal and demographic changes demonstrate that this precedent should no longer obtain.”