2016 PA Judicial Retirement Age Referendum

The GOP-dominated PA Legislature wants to change the PA Constitution to raise the age of mandatory retirement for judges and justices from 70 to 75. Cynics and realists know the impetus for this action is to allow Chief Justice Thomas Saylor (R) to stay on the Supreme Court. PA used to reliably vote Republican. Now as older jurist Rs retire, they are replaced by younger Ds. The GOP solution:  raise the age of mandatory retirement so terms of existing judges are extended.

On June 1, the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized in “Election Tampering” that “reasonable people can disagree whether 75 is a more appropriate mandatory retirement age than 70,” but the “chicanery” and deception involved in promoting this change together with the “steady stream of judicial scandal in recent years”  result in 2016 not being “the time to give all the state’s judges another five years on the bench.”

The saga of this referendum question is interesting as it makes clear that the party of low taxes and limited government doesn’t practice what it preaches. Shortly before the 4/26 primary, after absentee ballots went out, the referendum had been advertised, and the voting machines programmed, the GOP decided the wording for the question was too complicated and needed to be “clearer” and therefore voting on the referendum would be postponed until November 8.  Actually, they knew the referendum was going to be turned down by voters so they intervened to prevent defeat so that the wording could be rigged in a way to promote passage.  “More than two million Pennsylvania voters responded to the clear question on April 26 … with a clear answer: NO,” yet that outcome is to be disregarded.

By making the question “clearer,” the GOP is advocating that the text only ask whether judges should be required to retire at age 75. The goal of the new wording is to fool voters into thinking they are imposing a mandatory retirement age (when there is none) instead of what’s actually happening, raising the age.

The cost of running the election again is more than a million dollars and a lot of confused, disillusioned voters. Add that to the initial, similar or greater, expense that, given all the pressing needs of the state and its citizens, probably never should have been a Harrisburg priority, and you get a politically-motivated agenda that is costing taxpayers millions that could better be used elsewhere.  It’s hard to believe the GOP legislature can waste with impunity and then, with straight faces, tell Pennsylvanians there’s no money for roads, bridges, education.  Tell me again which party protects citizens from interference by bad government? Judge politicians on what they do, not what they say.