Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Too old to judge?

There is a movement afoot in New York to remove its constitution's requirement that judges retire at age 70.

Mr. Gillette recently posted about Vermont's "optimistic" forced retirement age of 90. As I said in a comment to that post, my intuition is that judges should probably retire sooner rather than later. Here's my thinking, beyond the obvious arguments about how they may be too old to do the job.

1) New blood. There are plenty of good middle-aged lawyers who are waiting to bring a fresh perspective and energy to the bench. Even in systems where there are judicial "elections," they are generally not highly contested affairs. Age limits are a good practical way to clear the way for better judges.

2) Turnover can be good. Although today's elderly are surely healthier than the elderly of yesterday, old judges are just as susceptible to the dreaded "black robes disease"  as they used to be. This is another reason for new blood. (Although, to be fair, this particular disease often goes away with age rather than worsening.)

3) Generational equity. I think it's kind of pathetic to see rich old people hanging on to these awesome jobs while qualified people in the next generation scrounge for work—or at least soak up all the available work so that the next generation down has to scrounge for work. I think there should be a strong presumption that old judges should step aside to let the next generation take over.

4) Joe Paterno.

Obviously not every 70-year old is financially independent. But if you are a 70-year who was successful enough to become a judge, you should be financially independent. If you aren't, you likely just spent too much money on stupid things and you do not have my sympathy. On the contrary, I condemn you!

It's not just judges who should retire at 70 or thereabout, by the way. All rich people should retire at around 70 if they can, and that should be the societal expectation and the societal pressure. I'm not saying that there should be laws to enforce this, but we should fogey-shame rich people who hang on to their high-paying jobs past the point of reason.

An example in the news recently is E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State. Mr. Gee is a guy who thinks he's a lot cleverer than he really is, so he's constantly getting into trouble for running his mouth off. (This is a sort of corollary to black-robes diseases—these successful academics who never get negative feedback from their underlings on a day-to-day basis start thinking that people are laughing at their offensive and idiotic jokes because they are actually funny, when the truth is that they're laughing because it is part of their jobs.) After Mr. Gee's most recent outburst became public—in which he insulted "those damn Catholics" at Notre Dame, among many others—he got a stern rebuke from the board of trustees at Ohio State. "One more strike and you're out!" they said, effectively.

But Gee is 69-years old. He makes about $2 million a year now, and he's presumably been making seven figures for many years, and six figures for decades. He is the .00001%. He should just retire. More importantly, everybody around him, including the trustees, should be saying to him, "Why don't you just retire? Why are you hanging on to this awesome, high-paying job that some other person could do without embarrassing the entire state?" The regents' threat to fire him the next time he insults an entire ethnic group is pretty empty—there's no way Gee needs the money. Although I guess he'd rather not be embarrassed by being fired, that's the only thing on the line.

That's a long tangent. Point is, old rich people should be retiring more to make way for the poor and unemployed young people to fill up the ranks. I think it's morally unacceptable for them not to accept a life of leisure at this point.


  1. Wow, 31 minutes after I filed this post, the Columbus Post-Dispatch reports that Gee announced his retirement today.

    Never underestimate the influence of this blog.

  2. I disagree. If the money is the issue, just refuse to accept your salary, so it can go somewhere that needs it. But if you really love your work, you shouldn't be pushed to retire.


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