The judicial retirement ages embedded in New York State’s Constitution are a relic of a time when average life expectancy was much shorter than it is today. A sensible proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot,Proposition 6, would modestly extend the age limits for certain state judges and help ease court system backlogs by allowing seasoned judges to stay on past age 70. We urge voters to approve the change.
Under the plan, members of New York’s Supreme Court — comprising the state’s primary trial court and the intermediate appellate court — would be eligible to serve up to five more two-year terms once they reach 70, allowing them to serve until age 80. Now, a State Supreme Court justice may serve three two-year terms beyond the age of 70, so the change would raise the cap by four years.
These five-term extensions would be subject to medical certification of continued fitness, just as the current three-term extensions are. In all, 28 judges would become eligible for the extra extensions in the next four years, according to court officials. This would give court administrators new flexibility to assign judges to family court and other areas where there is a pressing need.
Proposition 6 would also let members of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, serve past that court’s current mandatory retirement age of 70. Just a few years ago, the state’s former chief judge, Judith Kaye, one of the nation’s most able jurists, was forced to step down because of that rule for no good reason. Under the ballot proposal, Court of Appeals judges would be allowed to serve out any 14-year term on the court begun before they reach age 70, subject to a requirement that they step off the bench by the last day of the year in which they turn 80. Judge Kaye’s successor, Jonathan Lippman, for example, would be allowed to stay on the court until his term ended in early 2023, at age 77. For reasons of continuity, fairness and judicial independence, the reform is overdue.