Louisiana Amendment 5: State constitution has only had mandatory judicial retirement age for all judges since 1974

Where many states can lay claim to centuries of imposing mandatory judicial retirement ages through their state constitutions (such as New York which I detailed here), Louisiana was relatively late in adopting the practice, only putting a constitutional provision into effect starting in 1921 and even then making it apply only to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t until 1974 that mandatory judicial retirement became generally applicable to all judges in the state.

Constitution of 1812: Serve for life, no age limit, removed from office for “any reasonable cause” by 3/4 of legislature

At the time of admission into the Union, Louisiana’s constitution read very much like the U.S. Constitution, including and in particular the provision for the appointment of judges for life in Art. IV, Sec. 5. However, judges could be removed for “any reasonable cause” other than an impeachable offense (such as senility and infirmity) by a 3/4ths majority of the legislature.

The judges both of the supreme and inferior courts shall hold their offices during good behaviour; but for any reasonable cause which shall not be sufficient ground for impeachment, the Governor shall remove any of them, on the address of three fourths of each house of the general assembly: Provided however, That the cause or causes for which such removal may be required, shall be stated at length in the address, and inserted on the journal of each house.

Constitutions of 1845, 1852, 1861: end of life terms, no age limit, removed from office for “any reasonable cause” by 3/4 of legislature

The 1845 constitution rewrote the provisions related to life terms for judges (Supreme Court judges, for example, would now have 8 year terms while District Court judges would serve 6 years). No age limits were imposed, but provisions for removal “for any reasonable cause” remained in place (Art. IV, Sec. 73)

The judges of all courts shall be liable to impeachment; but for any reasonable cause, which shall not be sufficient ground for impeachment, the governor shall remove any of them on the address of three-fourths of the members present of each house of the general assembly. In every such case the cause or causes for which such removal may be required shall be stated at length in the address, and inserted in the journal of each house.

The 1852 constitution operated similarly. While extending terms for some offices (Supreme Court from 8 years to 10) and providing trial court judges were to be elected, it once again declined to impose a mandatory judicial retirement age. It also kept the provision allowing the legislature to remove “for any reasonable cause.” (Art. IV, Sec. 73) The 1861 constitution, adopted when the state secede from the Union, simply replicated the exact same language (Art. IV, Sec. 73)

Constitutions of 1868: no age limit, removed from office for “any reasonable cause” by 2/3 of legislature

The constitution that Louisiana adopted after the Civil War made it easier to remove judges for “any reasonable cause” such as senility and infirmity. Art. IV, Sec. 81 of the 1868 constitution dropped the required vote by the legislature to remove a judge for a non-impeachable cause from 3/4 to 2/3.

The judges of all courts shall be liable to impeachment for crimes and misdemeanors. For any reasonable cause the governor shall remove any of them, on the address of two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the general assembly. In every such case the cause or causes for which such removal may be required shall be stated at length in the address and inserted in the journal of each house.

Constitutions of 1879 and 1898: no age limit, removed from office for “any reasonable cause” by 2/3 of legislature OR higher court for “incompetency”

The 1879 (Art. IV, Sec. 93), and 1898 (Art. 220 ) constitutions kept the same provision regarding a 2/3 vote of the legislature to remove a judge “for any reasonable cause” but it also allowed for the state’s Supreme Court (Art. 200 / Art. 221) or District Courts (Art. 201 / Art. 222) to remove judges of courts below then, on request of 25 or 50 local citizens, for what would otherwise be the impeachable offenses of “for nonfeasance or malfeasance in office [or] for incompetency…” The case would be brought by the local district attorney or the state’s attorney general depending on the level of court.

Constitution of 1913: no age limit but Supreme Court can retire on full pay at age 75, removed from office for “any reasonable cause” by 2/3 of legislature OR higher court

The constitution adopted by Louisiana in 1913 kept the older language of removal of judges by the legislature for reasonable cause  (Art. 220) or by a higher court (Art. 221 and Art. 222) but provided the first inklings of a specified judicial retirement age. Specifically, members of the Supreme Court could, but were not required, to retire on full page at age 75 (Art. 86)

The Chief Justice or any of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court may retire on full pay when he shall have reached seventy-five years of age, provided said Justice has served continually, not less than fifteen years prior to his said retirement.

Constitution of 1921: High level court judges must retire at age 75 on full pay, may retire at 70 with 2/3 pay, removed from office for “incompetency” by higher court

The 1921 constitution (Art. VII, Sec. 8) marked the first specific mandatory judicial retirement age and applied to the three highest courts in the state (Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court). Judges were required to retire, on full pay, at age 75. They were given the option to retire at age 70 with 2/3 pay. Moreover, Supreme Court justices could also retire on 2/3 pay if they could demonstrate mental/physical incapacity as determined by the other members of the Supreme Court.

Also kept was the provision that allowed the Supreme Court (Art. IX, Sec. 5) and District Court (Art. IX, Sec. 6) to remove judges of lower courts for “incompetency.” Added was a provision that the other justices of the Supreme Court could remove one of their own in a similar fashion (Art. IX, Sec. 4).

Constitution of 1974: All judges must retire at age 70, removed from office for “disability”

Commencing with the 1974 Louisiana Constitution all judges were required to retire at the age of 70 (Art. V, Sec. 23(B))

Except as otherwise provided in this Section, a judge shall not remain in office beyond his seventieth birthday.

The “except as otherwise provided” dealt with two factors. First, judges who were in office under the 1921 constitution could remain. Second, the new mandatory retirement provision would not take effect until the state legislature created a retirement system for all judges. (Art. V, Sec. 23(A))

The other provision was what to do with judges, whether older or not, who were unable to perform their duties but who weren’t corrupt or criminal (i.e. impeachable offenses). Under the 1974 constitution, the Judiciary Commission could recommend that the Supreme Court “involuntarily retire” a judge “for disability that seriously interferes with the performance of his duties and that is or is likely to become permanent.” (Art. V, Sec. 25(C))

Amendment 4 of 1995: Failed to increase age to 75

As I mentioned in 2013 when the issue came up in New York, Louisiana made an effort to increase the mandatory retirement age in 1995 as Amendment 5. As I noted previously:

Among the 14 items on the 1995 ballot, it was one of only two that lost. The loss can at least in part be attributed to bad timing; the same 1995 ballot included as Amendment 2 term limits for the legislature. Amendment 2 passed overwhelmingly 75%-25%, making the “mere” 38%-62% drubbing Amendment 4 took somewhat remarkable.

Measure 15 of 2003: Succeeded in extending to end of term judge reaches 70

The more successful effort at change for Louisiana was in 2003. Measure 15, approved 53-47% allowed for the judge to serve out the remainder of the term in which they hit 70. Thus the language of Art. V, Sec. 23(B) set for possible repeal this November now reads

Except as otherwise provided in this Section, a judge shall not remain in office beyond his seventieth birthday. A judge who attains seventy years of age while serving a term of office shall be allowed to complete that term of office.