New York Proposal 6: State has had mandatory judicial retirement age since Revolutionary War

Since the Revolutionary War, New York State has (with a 20 year hiatus) always had some sort of constitutionally established age limit for the judges of its highest court(s). The state’s 1777 constitution provided

[T]that the chancellor, the judges of the supreme court, and first judge of the county court in every county, hold their offices during good behavior or until they shall have respectively attained the age of sixty years.

Article V, Section 3 of the 1821 constitution effectively repeated the 1777 provision

The chancellor and justices of the supreme court shall hold their offices during good behavior, or until they shall attain the age of sixty years.

The 1846 constitution is notable in that it did not include a provision for mandatory judicial retirement. This may stem in part from the provision that the judges were to be elected, or in some cases appointed, for set terms rather than for life/good behavior.

The lack of retirement age didn’t last long; the ill-fated 1867 constitutional convention submitted to voters a revised judiciary article that included one, this time at age 70 (Article VI, Section 13)

But no person shall hold the office of justice or judge of any court longer than until and including the last day of December next after he shall be seventy years of age.

The 1867 constitution was described as “ill-fated” because while every other article was rejected by voters, the revision to the judiciary article (including changing the organization of the state’s courts) was approved.

The 1894 constitution (Article VI, Section 12) essentially repeated the 1867 amendment.

No person shall hold the office of Judge or Justice of any court longer than until and including the last day of December next after he shall be seventy years of age.

The mandatory 70 retirement age was reaffirmed twice, in convention at least. A 1915 constitutional convention repeated the requirement (although the constitution itself was rejected by voters). A 1921 constitutional convention under the direction of the legislature was put together for the sole purpose of reviewing the judiciary article. They suggested several revisions to judiciary’s organization and function but again, kept the mandatory retirement age of 70. This time it was the legislature, rather than the voters, that rejected the entire proposal.

The 1938 constitution, too kept the mandatory retirement age and explicitly extended it to Surrogate’s Court judges (Article VI, Section 19)

No person shall hold the office of judge or justice of any court or the office of surrogate longer than until and including the last day of December next after he shall be seventy years of age.

Thus the provision remained until 1961 & 1966 when legislatively proposed amendments to the judiciary article were approved to what it reads today:

Each judge of the court of appeals, justice of the supreme court, judge of the court of claims, judge of the county court, judge of the surrogate’s court, judge of the family court, judge of a court for the city of New York established pursuant to section fifteen of this article and judge of the district court shall retire on the last day of December in the year in which he or she reaches the age of seventy.