Sometimes politicians do the right thing, even if it may be for the wrong reasons. That is the case with Issue 1 on next month’s statewide ballot, which would amend the state constitution to raise the retirement age for Ohio judges from 70 to 75. It deserves a YES vote.
Picking an arbitrary age is not the best way to judge when anyone should retire. But absent a better system, mandatory retirement ages at least should reflect improvements in the longevity, health, and activity of most Americans.
In 1973, Ohio’s Constitution was rewritten to require that judges retire rather than seek re-election after they passed age 70. At the time, the average life expectancy for Ohioans was about 70 years.
Since then, average life expectancy has increased to nearly 79 years. More important, many older people are healthier, more active, and sharper of mind than their peers of previous generations. It is not uncommon today for seniors to remain active in their 70s, 80s, and beyond.
Among the judges potentially affected by the proposed amendment are Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Frederick McDonald, 68, and appellate Judge Peter Handwork, 69. Both would turn 70 before their current terms expire. Together, they represent more than 50 years of judicial experience that could be lost for no better reason than that they passed a marker that does not determine their fitness to serve.
Ohio Supreme Court Justices Judith Lanzinger of Toledo and Paul Pfeifer of Bucyrus also are among the approximately two dozen judges who cannot run again under current law. Some critics suggest that Republicans want to raise the retirement age to maintain their majority on the high court.
If that’s true, shame on the state Republican Party for putting political advantage ahead of what is good for Ohioans — and perhaps on the Democratic Party for not fielding more appealing high-court candidates.
Among elected officials in Ohio, only judges are forced to step down after a certain age. Federal judges face no such artificial retirement date. The Ohio Supreme Court recognizes the continued competence of retired judges, by routinely assigning them as visiting judges long after they pass retirement age.
Ideally, judges should be able to serve as long as their physical health, their mental acuity, and voter support allow. Until a test of judicial competence is developed, raising the retirement age is the only way to keep the accumulated wisdom of experienced judges on the bench. Vote YES on Issue 1.