You can adjudicate my case, but you can’t buy a beer: Legislative efforts to increase minimum ages for judges

Over the last several years, I’ve examine numerous efforts to increase or eliminate the mandatory retirement ages for judges. I have, however, paid less attention to the other end: minimum ages. Interestingly, most appellate courts do not have a minimum age to serve, however they do have minimum years of bar admission and/or active practice which would presumably get the person past the age of 21.

Many state trial courts, however, have relatively low minimum age requirements. In some cases this is offset by bar admission requirements. For example, to serve as an Alabama Municipal Court Judge one need only be a “qualified elector” (i.e. 18), but the same provision requires they “be licensed to practice law in this state” (Code of Ala. § 12-14-30). This would presumably get a person to at least 21 years of age, although there are rare exceptions. Virginia Pearcy reportedly became the youngest attorney in the US in 1998 after graduating from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law at age 20.

21 is not always the magic number to serve as a judge, however. Arizona Justices of the Peace need only be 18 and  a qualified voter and resident; they do not have to be attorneys. Similarly, Connecticut Probate Judges appointed prior to 2011 need only be electors setting the minimum for that court as 18 as well (a 2010 law mandates new Probate Judges be attorneys).

In addition to Connecticut’s de facto increase in age requirement in 2010, Pennsylvania’s HB 917 of 2010 which would have increased the age threshold from 21 to 25 for magisterial judges only. Pennsylvania HB 998 of 2011 would raise the minimum age for all judges from 21 to 25.

Similarly, New York’s AB 10945 of 2010, reintroduced as AB 5674 of 2011, would increase the minimum age for service as a town or village justice from 18 to 25.

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