I’ve mentioned in the past the sheer volume of bills, particularly in the last 3 years, to increase or eliminate the mandatory retirement age for judges. So far while there has been a great deal of activity no state has been able to get an increase or elimination either onto the governor’s desk or before the voters.
Hawaii in particular looks to be the most likely to get an increase or elimination, but it not at all clear how the state legislature will fare and how the voters will react. Hawaii has a particular history with the subject of mandatory judicial retirement, one that does not suggest adoption is certain.
2005-2006 session: Eliminate it
In 2005, Hawaii had the first Republican governor since statehood with the power to appoint judges via merit selection, a legislature made up of a supermajority of Democrats (41 to 10 in the House, 20 to 5 in the Senate), and several members of the state’s courts up against the mandatory retirement age of 70. The state’s senate proposed a constitutional amendment (SB 995) eliminating the mandatory retirement age of 70. The vote went along party lines, the move was viewed as partisan in general, and it which went down to a nearly 2-1 defeat in the November 2006 elections.
2007-2010: Raise it
After the defeat in 2006 and taking the 2007 session off, the legislature went back to work on the subject. HB 2344 of 2008 would have raised the age from 70 to 72, while SB 3202 of the same year would have raised it from 70 to 80, but only for judges appointed after November 4, 2008 when the item would have been on the ballot. The 70-to-72 version went nowhere, the 70-to-80 version was approved in the House and Senate, but using slightly different language that could not be reconciled in conference committee in time.
A 2009/2010 version (HB 621) to raise the age from 70 to the end of the term in which a judge turned 70 was never even brought up for a committee hearing.
2011-2012: Increase it and/or work around it
The 2011/2012 session saw attempts to try and work around the mandatory retirement age of 70. SB 650 authorized the chief justice of the supreme court to appoint judges forced into retirement as “emeritus judges” to serve as per diem judges or judicial mentors in courts no higher than the court level they reached prior to retirement and for terms not to exceed three months. An amended version, removing any reference to “judicial mentors” was approved by the House and Senate unanimously, but there was a catch. Because it was a constitutional amendment, the legislature was required under the constitution to give the governor 10 days written notice before passage. They failed to do so and had to swiftly repass the bill to get it onto the 2012 ballot. Despite no apparent opposition, the provision failed when over 10% of voters simply declined to vote on the item. Final tally: 49.6% Yes, 39.9% No, 10.4% not voting.
In the meantime the effort to raise the age was reintroduced and redebated (SB 2206 of 2012) again with an eye towards raising it from 70 to 80. It was approved unanimously in the Senate and the House Judiciary Committee in March 2012, but the focus for the remaining months of the legislature was on SB 650, the work around, rather than the increase.
2013-2014: Increase it and/or work around it (again)
Despite the loss in 2012, the legislature appears inclined to try and repropose the judge emeritus concept again to voters. HB 275 and SB 346 effectively cut and paste the language that was on the November 2012 ballot. The difference here would be that House version applies to any retired judge or justice, trial or appellate, regardless of whether they are forced into retirement at age 70 or not; the Senate version mentions only “judges” and otherwise reproduces the language of the 2012 bill (i.e. only those forced to retire at age 70):
SB 650 of 2012: The chief justice may appoint judges who have retired upon attaining the age of seventy years as emeritus judges, permitting the appointed judges to serve as temporary judges in courts no higher than the court level they reached prior to retirement and for terms not to exceed three months per each appointment.
HB 275 of 2013 (as approved by House): The chief justice may appoint judges and justices who have retired as emeritus judges, permitting the appointed judges and justices to serve as temporary judges in courts no higher than the court level they reached prior to retirement and for terms not to exceed three months per appointment.
SB 346 of 2013: The chief justice may appoint judges who have retired upon attaining the age of seventy years as emeritus judges, permitting the appointed judges to serve as temporary judges in courts no higher than the court level they reached prior to retirement and for terms not to exceed three months per each appointment.
HB 275 as amended was approved unanimously by the full House February 28.
HB 792, SB 886 and SB 1022 all increase the mandatory judicial retirement age from 70 to 80. Of the three, it is SB 886 which has had the greatest success; it was approved unanimously by the Senate February 15 and unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee March 7. The next hurdle is the House Finance Committee. Despite the swift passage so far, it could be delayed up to a year and carried over until the 2014 session (as occurred with SB 650, mentioned above).
The latest status report on the bills in Hawaii and the other 16 states considering the issue this session are below the fold.
» Read more: Update on mandatory judicial retirement legislation: bills in 16 states, but so far no enactments; Hawaii appears to be closest but has choppy history on the subject