The judge retirement age has generated a flurry of political backlash, namely by liberal Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson who is 81.
Knudson, however, maintains that his proposal is anything but politically partisan. He said some sort of age needs to be established according to state law.
“If you go back to the 1970s the mandatory retirement age for all state employees was 70,” Knudson said. “In 1977, voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring the legislature to set a mandatory retirement age for judges in the state.”
The legislature amended the constitution taking away the age requirement for state employees, but never did set an age for retiring judges.
“The legislature in 1977 was directed and told that it ‘shall set a new age’ – that never happened. For nearly 40 years we haven’t taken any action. It’s time that we do. This is not optional.”
When the idea was floated to set a mandatory retirement age for judges, I fell for the media spin assuming that it was a slap at the elderly Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. But Knudson is absolutely right. Here it is in the state constitution:
(2) Unless assigned temporary service under subsection (3), no person may serve as a supreme court justice or judge of a court of record beyond the July 31 following the date on which such person attains that age, of not less than 70 years, which the legislature shall prescribe by law.
It does appear that the legislature has failed to fulfill its obligation to set a retirement age. As they do set one, however, they should write it in a way to allow current elected judges to serve the remainder of their terms.