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Published: Sunday, 4/17/2011

Raising the bar

Americans are living longer than their parents did. Older Americans are healthier than previous generations. It makes sense to take advantage of that extended vibrancy by raising the retirement age for Ohio judges from 70 to 75 years old.

The Ohio House passed a bill last week that would ask voters to amend the state constitution so that judges could run for election for five years beyond the current cutoff. If the bill becomes law, the amendment would appear on the ballot for November’s general election.

In 1973, when Ohio’s age limit for judicial service took effect, the average life expectancy for American men was about 67.6 years; for women it was 75.3 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Today, United Nations researchers say, it’s about 77 years for American men and 81 years for women.

More important, a 65-year-old man in the United States today can expect on average to live 17 more years, and a woman about 20 years. Both can expect to enjoy reasonably good health for most of those years. It is not unusual for seniors to remain active in their 70s, 80s, and beyond.

Raising the retirement age would allow older judges who still feel the call to public service to stand once more before voters. It would allow voters to determine the value of the accumulated wisdom of a senior judge. And it might reduce the number of retired judges who collect government pensions while working as special-assignment judges.

Jurists who have lost their mental edge might not be the best judges of their continued fitness for office. Some older judges fail to recognize how much their skills have diminished. So a peer-review system is needed that would let sitting judges know when it’s time to hang up their robes.

The Ohio Bar Association supports the higher age cutoff for judicial service. So do the Association of Municipal/County Judges and the Ohio Supreme Court.

It’s time to recognize that the facts of life and aging in the 21st century have changed.

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