Placed on the ballot by the state legislature, Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would increase the maximum age at which a person may assume judicial office. The constitution now prohibits a judge from taking office if he or she reaches 70 on or before that day. The amendment would add five years, barring a judge from taking office if he or she is older than 75 on or before the day of election or appointment.
We recommend a “yes” vote on Issue 1 on Nov. 8.
Ohio voters unwisely approved term limits for statewide officeholders and members of the legislature in 1992, the artificial barriers depleting the institutional memory necessary for state government to function effectively. In the same way, age limits for judges deprive voters of the ability to elect members of the judicial branch who offer the benefit of experience and other skills.
Judges are the only elected officials in the state who have a mandatory retirement age. What’s more, Ohio’s limits are low, the current 70-year limit shared by just 19 other states. All of the rest either have higher age limits, or none at all.
Ohio’s current age limit was adopted in 1968. Amendment supporters point to the reality that people live longer. As it is, many people function at high levels at advanced ages. Although this editorial page long has argued for merit selection, Ohio voters repeatedly have chosen to elect judges. That being the case, voters should be allowed to make their best assessment of a judicial candidate’s abilities. Issue 1 would modestly expand the range of that discretion.
Opponents argue that Issue 1 would lead to a more entrenched judiciary and burden the system with judges who are past their prime. But six-year terms already give voters the opportunity to retire judges long before they reach an age limit.
The argument also ignores the mechanisms already in place, albeit rarely used, to deal with judges who fail to perform their duties. The Ohio Supreme Court can discipline or remove a judge. Judges also can be impeached by the legislature.
In addition, the amendment would repeal sections of the state constitution that allow the legislature to establish courts of conciliation and for the governor to appoint a commission to assist the Ohio Supreme Court with its docket. The sections date to the 1800s, and have never been used.