Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Gerontocracy and state judges

Clara Webb

This week, Travis County will vote in the statewide election on Nov. 7. Among the proposed amendments is Proposition 13, which seeks to raise the mandatory retirement age for state judges from 75 to 79. 

In recent months, conversation surrounding the health of various politicians has sparked debate over mandatory age requirements for public officials. While it may be an unfortunate truth, age can present some limits. Although we often expect public servants to step down when they are no longer performing at their highest abilities, this does not always happen. 

Voting ‘no’ on Proposition 13 will encourage age representation and prevent cognitive decline in state representatives. 

“I think moving into (higher mandatory retirement ages) will end up with a negative impact because there’s less confidence in the intelligence and the abilities of the judges,” said Ezekiel Payne, an international relations and global studies freshman.

Payne’s sentiments reflect a growing concern around the apparent American gerontocracy, which births the argument that cognitive decline occurs at age 70 and makes older public servants less fit to guide the electorate. 

However, in instances where judges remain reliable decision-makers into older age, the concept of forced retirement seems less beneficial. Neither ageist policies nor the cognitive decline of government officials are desirable, making the issue of forced retirement divisive. Yet students deserve capable representation in state politics. 

“One of the major problems that we have is moving cases and backlogs of cases. And so anything that moves experienced judges out of their positions while they’re still capable could be seen as not helpful,” said Joshua Blank, director of research at the Texas Politics Project.

While judges who serve until forced retirement may have more experience than younger judges, State Representative Steve Toth believes that judge turnover can be a good thing, citing how judicial authority has increased beyond its original intentions.  

Furthermore, the current age demographic of public servants does not represent the broader electorate since the youth vote — which includes ages 18-29 — comprised 27% of all votes in the 2022 midterm election. As college students, we must amplify the voices of younger elected officials who bring a fresh perspective to government. 

While an age retirement minimum would not guarantee a diverse age representation, it can promote opportunity for younger judges. Stable judgment and experience are invaluable, but at some point, the benefits of retirement outweigh the associated experience. Thirty-one states have mandatory retirement age requirements for their state judges, with the most common age being 70.

By voting against Proposition 13, students can promote the revitalization of Texas’ state judges. Currently, there is no legal provision that mandates a cognitive test for state judges. Furthermore, the extension of mandatory retirement age requirements does not limit power among state representatives as they may still pursue office independent of cognitive capability.  

This November, students can promote the youth voice by voting against Proposition 13. While there are benefits to keeping older judges on the bench, until we can account for concerns about America’s gerontocracy, we must check the extension of judicial power.  

Wood is a social work major from Austin, Texas.

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