Retire at 70, Pa. judges are told

The state Supreme Court said the provision is constitutional. Castille may be affected.

Posted: June 19, 2013

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania's highest court on Monday unanimously rejected a challenge to a constitutional provision that requires judges to retire by the end of the year in which they turn 70.

The state Supreme Court ruled on two lawsuits filed by judges who argued that the mandatory-retirement provision, part of a 1968 amendment, conflicted with an older section of the constitution that bars age discrimination.

Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas Saylor said, "Theoretically at least there is some possibility that a constitutional amendment might impinge on inherent, inalienable rights otherwise recognized in the constitution itself."

"Nevertheless, we do not believe that the charter's framers regarded an immutable ability to continue in public service as a commissioned judge beyond 70 years of age as being within the scope of the inherent rights of mankind," he wrote.

The case had potential implications for several members of the court who are approaching age 70, including Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille. He is seeking another 10-year term in a retention vote this year but turns 70 in March, meaning he would have to retire by the end of 2014. Castille had no comment on Monday's ruling, court officials said.

Saylor suggested judges seeking to change the constitution should pursue an amendment - a multiyear process that requires approval by the legislature and the voters.

Robert Heim, lawyer for three judges who sued, said he did not plan to appeal but vowed to keep pressing a federal suit that makes similar claims.

The challenges rejected Monday were the latest in a string of unsuccessful efforts to undo the retirement requirement that dates to the late 1980s.

Once they reach age 70, Pennsylvania judges may still handle cases as senior judges on contract with the court system.

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