NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Elderly Judges Keep Federal Judicial System Afloat

October 8, 2001

Federal judges are appointed for life and a growing number of them have elected to remain on their benches even though they have passed normal retirement age. While some legal observers question whether or not these judges are up to hearing complicated cases, others say their services are helping keep the legal system from falling even further behind.

  • Instead of retiring at age 65, nearly 40 percent of the nation's more than 1,200 working federal judges have entered senior status.
  • Often handling reduced caseloads, they do nearly 20 percent of the federal judiciary's work.
  • They receive full pay -- but that means that they are really volunteering their time, since they would receive full pay anyway if they were to retire.

Critics question whether the judges can stay fresh. Larry Klayman, chairman of Judicial Watch, calls the situation a "dinosaur graveyard" and says older judges should be required to take competency tests or face a mandatory retirement age.

Source: Jerry Markon, "Elderly Judges Handle 20 Percent of U.S. Caseload," Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2001.

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