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Pennsylvania top court upholds mandatory retirement age for judges

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania [official website] on Monday upheld [opinion, PDF] the mandatory retirement provision for judicial officers. The complaint [JURIST report], originally filed by six Pennsylvania judges, alleged that the mandatory retirement provision in the Pennsylvania Constitution [text] was in violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment [text] to the US Constitution. The court, although sympathetic, held that because of the people's indefeasible right to alter their government by amending the Constitution, the mandatory retirement provision was subject to deferential, rational basis review under both equal protection and due process. The court concluded that that standard had been satisfied:

Therefore, although certain societal circumstances may have changed since 1968 when the challenged provision was added to the Constitution—and, indeed, some of the original justifications for mandatory retirement may not have reflected the most fair or even the most beneficial public policy—the proper approach of conforming the Constitution more closely with Petitioners' vision of how experiential changes should be taken into account is to pursue further amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The matter was remanded to the Commonwealth Court for dismissal of the complaints with prejudice, and judgment granted in favor of the Commonwealth.

The US Supreme Court [official website] has previously considered the merits of a challenge to mandatory retirement provisions of a state constitution. In Gregory v. Ashcroft [opinion], Missouri state court judges challenged a mandatory retirement provision in the state constitution, but the Supreme Court held that the provision did not violate equal protection. Mandatory retirement laws have been considered in European courts of law as well. In November the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] struck down [JURIST report] a law which would have lowered the mandatory retirement age for judges in Hungary from 70 to 62, stating the law was not proportionate to the objectives Hungary was pursing. In 2009 the ECJ ruled that UK mandatory retirement laws were not discriminatory [JURIST report], stating age-based classifications are justifiable in some circumstances. The ECJ also ruled in 2007 that the EU's mandatory retirement policies [JURIST report] did not violate the prohibition against age discrimination if the policy is intended to further the legitimate public interest of increasing employment and the retirees are provided with full pensions.

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