September 30, 2020
As Americans live longer, a persistent question is how long they can remain active in the workforce. While most government officials have no age limit to their service, the same is not true for the majority of state judges. This situation is unique to the United States. As a recent article in The Atlantic noted, in most major Western democracies and the majority of U.S. states judges are subject to some kind of mandatory judicial retirement. The question is: why?
First, it should be noted that mandatory judicial retirement ages came into the United States relatively early on. For example, New York placed a mandatory judicial retirement age of 60 for its judges shortly after the Revolution. When writing the Federalist Papers for a mostly New York audience, Alexander Hamilton noted this practice and how it would not apply to federal judges (who would serve "during good behavior"). The concern expressed at the time was that judges would age into "inability", shorthand for judges that were physically and/or mentally unable to continue in office.
Second, the practice arose at a time when there was little to no recourse to remove a judge who had reached the point of "inability." The only real option for removing a judge at the time was to conduct an impeachment proceeding which was both time-consuming and difficult to put together at a time when state legislatures only met for a few months a year.
Since then states have developed ways to address judges who have aged into "inability" via removal processes associated with judicial disciplinary and/or fitness proceedings. Nevertheless, most states still impose a mandatory retirement age on judges, as seen in the table below. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice in 1991 in Gregory v. Ashcroft (501 U.S. 452). Moreover, when the question is placed on the ballot (as is necessary where the age is put into the state's constitution) voters tend to reject efforts to increase or eliminate such ages.
NCSC has produced several products on the question of judicial retirement in the last several years.
- Happy Birthday! Now get out. This 2016 article examples the development of the retirement ages historically and efforts since 1990 to remove or eliminate mandatory age requirements.
- Increasing or Repealing Mandatory Judicial Retirement Ages. Written as part of the Trends Monthly series this article examines arguments put forward in support of, and in opposition to, increasing or repealing mandatory judicial retirement ages.
- A Comparative Analysis of Judicial Compensation in the US and Canada: Facts, Figures, and Comparisons. This paper produced as part of the Institute for Court Management's Fellows Program examines judicial retirement plans/systems as of 2015 for state court judges.
Do judges in your state have a mandatory retirement age? Should they? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences! For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.
Judicial Retirement Ages
|State||Appellate Judges||Trial Judges||Basis for Age: Constitution or Statute||Notes|
|Alabama||70||70||Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 155 (Amended), Amendment 328||May not be elected or appointed after 70.|
|Alaska||70||70||Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 11|
|Arizona||70||70/Varies||Constitution: Art. VI, Secs. 20 & 39||Municipal courts: Varies. 2012 constitutional amendment to raise to 75 rejected by voters (27% yes)|
|Arkansas||70||70||Arkansas law does not specify a retirement age for judges, however a judge that fails to resign at the end of the term in which they reach 70 forfeits all pension/retirement benefits. See Arkansas Code § 24-8-215(c)||Retirement statute upheld by state supreme court in 2016 in Landers v. Stone (2016 Ark. 272496 S.W.3d 370)|
|Colorado||72||72||Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 23|
|Connecticut||70||70||Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 6|
|District of Columbia||74||74||Statute: 1-204.31(c)|
|Florida||75||75||Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 8||Increase from 70 to 75 as part of Amendment 6 of 2018.|
|Georgia||Some but not all Municipal courts have mandatory retirement ages.|
|Hawaii||70||70||Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 3||2014 constitutional amendment to raise age to 80 rejected (22% yes)|
|Illinois||*||*||Constitution: Art. 6, Sec. 15||May serve out term in which turns 75. Statute was declared by the Supreme Court of Illinois to be unconstitutional, as written, because the Act violated the doctrine of equal protection. See: Maddux v. Blagojevich, 233 Ill. 2d 508 (2009).|
|Statute: 705 ILCS 55/1*|
|Indiana||75||Statute: IC 33-38-13-8|
|Kansas||75||75||Statute: 20-2608(a)||May serve out term in which turns 75.|
|Louisiana||70||70/None||Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 23||May serve out term in which turns 70. Mayors’ court judges have no age limit. 2014 constitutional amendment to repeal failed (42% yes)|
|Maryland||70||70/None||Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 3||Orphan’s Court judges have no mandatory retirement age.Retirement age upheld in Bernstein v. Maryland, 674 F.Supp. 2d 703 (D. Md. 2009), and Bernstein v. State, 422 Md. 36, 29 A.3d 267 (2011).|
|Massachusetts||70||70||Constitution: Art. 1, Part 2, Ch. 3|
|Michigan||70||70||Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 19||May not be elected or appointed after 70.|
|Minnesota||70||70||Constitution: Art. 6, Sec. 9||May serve to end of month turns 70.|
|Statute: 490.121(21d) & 490.125|
|Missouri||70||70/75||Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 26||70 for Circuit Court, 75 for Municipal Court.|
|New Hampshire||70||70||Constitution: Art. 78|
|New Jersey||70||70||Constitution: Art. XI, Sec. IV|
|New York||70||70/None||Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 25||Generally: May serve until end of year in which 70 is reached. Town/Village: No age limit. 2013 constitutional amendment to raise age rejected (40% yes)|
|North Carolina||72||72||Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 6||May serve to end of month turns 72.|
|Ohio||70||70/None||Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 6||Section interpreted as meaning may serve until end of term turns 70. Mayors’ court judges have no age limit. 2011 constitutional amendment to raise to 75 rejected by voters (38% yes).|
|Oregon||75||75||Constitution: Art. VII (Amended), Sec. 1a||Constitution allows age to be reduced to as low as 70 by statute or initiative. Constitutional Amendment to repeal rejected by voters in 2016.|
|Pennsylvania||75||75||Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 16||May serve until end of year in which 75 is reached. Constitutional amendment raising age to 75 approved by 50.88% of voters in November 2016.|
|South Carolina||72||72/None||South Carolina law does not specify a retirement age for judges, however a judge that fails to resign at 72 does not obtain pension/retirement benefits. See South Carolina Code § 9-8-40 & 9-8-60||No limit for Probate or Municipal Courts.|
|South Dakota||70||70||Statute: 16-1-4.1||May serve into the January after attaining age 70.|
|Texas||74||74/None||Constitution: Art. 5, Sec. 1-a||Legislature may set at any age from 70 to 75. District & Criminal District Court: May serve out term in which turns 75 if completed at least 4 years of 6 year term. Municipal: Varies. All other trial courts: No limit.|
|Utah||75||75||Constitution: Art. VIII, Sec. 15|
|Vermont||90||90||Constitution: Sec. 35||Legislature may set anywhere from end of the calendar year in which judge attains 70 to end of the term when judge attains 90. Legislature has opted for end of year attain 90.|
|Virginia||73||73||Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 9||May serve until 20 days after the convening of the next regular session of the General Assembly. Increase from 70 to 73 for all appellate judges and some trial judges approved by legislature in 2015 (HB 1984). Increase from 70 to 73 for remaining trial judges approved in 2016 (HB 1245).|
|Washington||75||75||Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 3(a)||May serve until end of year in which 75 is reached.|
|Wyoming||70||70/None||Constitution: Art. 5, Sec. 5||District: 70 Circuit & Municipal: None|