Using the still-fabulous Supreme Court Compendium data set, I’ve thrown together a chart plotting the ages of each Justice at retirement. I didn’t have to make many judgment calls and the data really speaks for itself. You can click on the image for a larger view. Enjoy!

22 Responses to “Supreme Court Justices: Age at Retirement”

  1. 1 null

    increased life expectancy.

  2. 2 ellen davis

    The data on the chart speaks for itself the retiring ages of the Supreme Court justices vary heavily between the age of 70 and 80 i think in part that comes from health as well as physical disabilites that occur with age. I personally believe that while a good majority of people believe that there should be a capp set on the ages of the supreme court justices, there shouldnt unless there is a health issue presnt with the justice like Alzhimeres which impairs the judges memory or a lethal diease like cancer otherwise while some believe elderly dont have the ability to think like youth they do and they have been in the system long enough to know court case well and understand what coures of action should be taken on cases, there are also enough younger judges to compensate for the age of the elderly judge. I personally believe that taking away a job of someone especially an elderly supreme court justice would do no good because it would only speed up the process of aging them. So i believe that unless the supreme court justice is mentally or physically ill that no action should be made to cap the retiremeent age of a supreme court justice.

  3. 3 Blake Farr

    I don’t think you can put an age limit on supreme court justices because that isn’t fair to the justices who reach their nineties yet continue to do what they’ve been doing for years at a very high level. A number is just a number and for one instance it may be right to kick someone out if they have sickness or are just too tired to get the job done, but for someone else they could be fine and kicking them out because they’ve reached a number doesn’t make sense. 15 years is also bad because justices need to know 1: they’re in this for the long haul and 2: they need to see the ramifications of their decisions and perhaps have the ability to change previous decisions.

  4. 4 Richard Hoppe

    It is quite obvious judges are retiring a lot later. I believe 15 year terms and an age cap at 75 would be a great idea. Judges can rule for as long as they want but I feel like they lose the interest of the nation when they get too old. I feel like seniors are usually so rooted to their beliefs they hardly consider new ideas. Also it would open up seats in the Supreme Court more often, changing the political make up of the court more often.

  5. 5 Claire

    While I believe that some judges do not know when to step down, some judges who are older than seventy-five tend to be more rational and logical than some of the younger members of the court. I think that the proposal that all Justices be appointed for fifteen years including a cap on age seventy-five and a grandfather clause for the present members of the court has its perks but it would hinder those who are still able to serve but unfortunately turn the age of seventy-five. I do think that we need to propose a Constitutional Amendment in order to change the lifetime appointments for judges. Some judges choose not to step down when they should because no one knows and their physical/mental condition. I think that it would be wise to mandate having examinations twice a year so that the court does not suffer from having incompetent judges.

  6. 6 Tessa Deardorff

    The chart shows how things typically go in SCOTUS. However, the justices are supposed to have their jobs for life. It isn’t fair of us to think that all judges over a certain age will have mental illness or drug problems. For all we know, the youngest member of SCOTUS may have drug issues or mental illness. Plus, older members are wiser and have more experience than younger members do. Setting caps would make the court more susceptible to the media, political parties, and the public than to their duty of being nonpartisan. Caps would just make things worse.

  7. 7 Mark A.

    I think the only thing this chart says is that Supreme Court judges don’t want to retire. Its interesting that the average retirement age is older than the life expectancy of Americans. Judges will be old and I personally don’t see a problem with that. I don’t think it is a good idea to have restrictions on age and length of service on the Supreme Court. It will give too much power to the President because of the term limit. Whoever the President is at the time will have the power to appoint a person to the position, if every 15 years a judge is replaced the current President will have the power to appoint many if not all nine new Supreme Court Judges. As it is now a President usually only gets to appoint one Supreme Court judge, or two if they are really lucky, the proposal on limits will allow the executive branch so much control of the Judicial branch that it could severely damage check and balances. There isn’t that much issues with the age of the judges, they bring experience, and usually make non bias decisions. Being in the court for a long time diminishes the likelihood outside influence. If there is a limit to the amount of years more judges will be concerned with the politics of the American People and won’t make impartial decisions, simply because they haven’t been out of the public and in the courts for so long.

  8. 8 Taylor

    I think that mandatory retirement is the incorrect path to try to make the supreme court consist of judges that are mentally competent. The age at which people begin to mentally degrade is arbitrary and changes person to person. I think that yearly mental evaluations would be a better choice than to cap the time that a justice could serve. It would be similar to how jobs require drug tests. This would require the people who’s minds on which our country depends to be evaluated and by a panel deemed suit to be part of governing our country.

  9. 9 Mike Wilson

    I am not so sure about an age requirement as i am about an ability and stability requirement. For instance, i would not mind if a brilliant 90 year old man was ruling and doing it well then if a half-crazed, demented 50 year old was doing badly. So i think that age should not matter so much as mental ability and stability.

  10. 10 John Hare-Grogg

    It is easy to see why many people believe that Supreme Court justices should be effectively “term-limited”: their mental health can be questionable and is seldom conspicuous; they grow older as society seems to age negatively; their impacts on the court aren’t guaranteed but are yet long-lasting; and, as is perhaps the favorite argument of those who support age caps or appointment durations, their lifetime appointment system contradicts the very system of government over which they judge – the judicial branch is singularly undemocratic. However, setting an appointment length would not seem to solve any of these problems; if anything, it would exacerbate them. Mental incapacitation doesn’t always happen, and when it does, occurs at an unpredictable age and speed. Systematically eliminating perfectly apt justices who have seniority on the court would be counterintuitive. Applying age limits would encourage presidents to choose nominees of lower age and thus lesser judicial experience, in order to maximize the amount of time the nominee would spend on the court if confirmed. Setting definite lengths on terms would put the justices up for “re-election” every 15 years, which could cause public opinion and political tides to carry a disproportional weight in decisions. There’s a reason why the judicial branch was created, and it wasn’t to create a back-up legislature – there’s obviously enough of a legislative branch already. The vocal majority should not be entrusted with ultimate power over the rights of the minority or the oppressed. A select responsibility, in order to keep the balance of power in check, should be given to a select group of individuals who demonstrate exceptional impartiality and wisdom in judgment, and who judge on the basis of the country’s founding document. Placing term limits would disrupt this concept.

  11. 11 Robyn Blanton

    I oppose the proposal because it would only solve a fragment of the problem in the Supreme Court. Applying a mandatory retirement age would do little to change the fact that justices are being allowed to serve while being treated for illnesses that negatively affect their ability to do their job. These illnesses do not only affect those over 75. If anything, this proposal would end up hurting the Supreme Court more than it would help. The health of a younger Justice should not hold more value than the wisdom of an older Justice. A medical requirement should be implemented before an age requirement should be considered.

  12. 12 Rianne Whittington

    I do not think that there should be a term limit of 15 years or a 75 years old age limit. These judges have been working hard their entire lives to make it up to the supreme court and it is not fair to take away from their hard work by limiting their term. I think that if a judge is becoming incompetent then there should be a test of some sort to see if they can still perform the job at hand. I do not think that 75 is an age that people cannot work at either. People can do the same things they did at age 74 as age 75. These people are also some of the smartest people out there; they have gone to the best colleges so they have been educated well and I don’t think that they should be capped at 75 or after serving for 15 years.

  13. 13 Priscilla B.

    i support the age cap, but not the term limit. However i also believe they should not only focus on age, but mental competence. Judges can be impaired via drugs or any other anomaly that cloud judgement, which is why their health problems should be made public knowledge instead uv having other justices making decisions for the impaired. The age cap will also allow more competent judges to take the positions of the ones with a receding capacity for clear judgement.

  14. 14 Naomi

    I’m not sure whether or not I support the idea of imposing an age limit for Justices. I certainly feel uncomfortable with the idea of a “term limit”, which sounds too reminiscent of political term limits. But Sandra Day O’Connor herself referenced the fact that neither voluntary retirement nor impeachment may serve the interests of a fully functioning judiciary. I’m not arguing for a court that features a bevy of thirty and forty something Justices, or for a Court that is an exact reflection of public opinion. I just think that the tendency for Justices to hold fast to their positions even when they are clearly marked with deteriorating mental or physical health is troubling. The article on FindLaw suggested that one solution to this issue is to make the health records of the Justices available to the public. I think this sounds like an attack on personal privacy, and I don’t condone it any way. My indecisiveness on the issue of age limits does not stem from a belief that older people are simply less capable than younger people, but something needs to be done. Perhaps regular tests for the Justices are a viable solution.

  15. 15 maya jarvis

    I don’t actually think there should be any kind of term limit or age restrictions. With age and being somewhere for a long time it brings experience and certain understandings. Applying a mandatory retirement age would do little to change the fact that justices are being allowed to serve while being treated for illnesses that negatively affect their ability to do their job.These judges have been working hard their entire lives to make it up to the supreme court and it is not fair to take away from their hard work by limiting their term.The supreme court judges tend to be older becasue they have worked for a while and have gained the experience they need to tackle the bigger ideas. I understand that the age could be a concern because these justices make some of the biggest decisions in our country. I think there should be some kind of test to determine whether or not the brain is still functional and if the the judge can handle what’s needed to make important decisions.

  16. 16 Travis Kellum

    I am not sure that an 15 year term limit would yield any significant benefit. The average starting age of the first 9 justices is essentially the same as the most recent appointees. Despite the intentions of presidents to place their stamp on the court, there is no certain way to determine how a justice will vote once appointed. Justice Souter is a prime example. There is something about a lifetime appointment that mentally frees someone to vote their conscience. Also, knowledge of a justice’s end of term could have a significant effect on presidential elections. Presidential candidates who would be definitely appointing a justice, would fall under intense pressure on this issue.
    The current uncertainty (regarding retirement) and security (lifetime appointment) creates a system that is somewhat difficult to politicize. Any benefit of term limits does not outweigh the negatives

  17. 17 Kedar

    Great comments about judicial retirements. I think y’all have picked up on the big arguments and really flushed them out. I should mention a few things:

    1) the typical term limit is listed as 18-years. That would allow a perfect two-year cycle for judicial replacements and would give each President two replacements per term.

    2) There are several famous examples of physical or mental health impacting justices towards the end of their time on the Court.

    -Chief Justice Rehnquist missed oral arguments throughout almost all of the 2004-2005 term (his last) due to his cancer treatments. He continued to write opinions and decide cases but he was notably absent from the Court’s most public activity. He actually told his fellow justices that he intended to serve another year, but he passed away in the summer of 2005.

    -Justice William Douglas suffered a debilitating stroke in December 1974. He continued to serve on the Court but his incapacity was obvious and a group of his fellow justices decided to postpone deciding any cases where they though Justice Douglas’ vote would make the difference. He ended up retiring nearly a year later after continued urging from his colleagues.

    -At the end of his time on the Court, Justice Thurgood Marshall told his clerks that, if he died, they should “prop me up and keep voting.” He said that because he was afraid that if he retired (or passed away) during the Bush Administration, his replacement would be much more conservative that he was. He ended up retiring in 1991 only 18 months before passing away.

  18. 18 Andrew MIljenovic

    As the chart provides clear evidence that Justices retire almost all at old ages mainly 70-80 years old. I however, dont feel it is necessary for having term limits of 15 years and an age cap of 75. It is all about who does the job the best. If they happen to be over 75 why would you not want him to have the job. And when the terms are 15 years the justices will keep changing, and they all have different opinions. With keeping the same justices it allows to have consistent rulings, instead of varying conflicting issues.

  19. 19 Rachelle Hutton

    I don’t think that Justices should have term limits or a mandatory retirement age. As the chart shows, Justices are retiring at older ages as time goes on. Justices are usually older when they are appointed by the current President. This is because they gain experience in lower courts before they move on and are appointed. I think this experience is important to the SCOTUS because they need to have the best of the best judges there to decide on the cases. I also think the longer they are in the SCOTUS they will become wiser and gain more knowledge, experience which will make them better as they get older. Putting a term and age limit of the Justices will take this experience away. But as people get older then tend to slow down and prone to disease and sickness. I do agree with many people when they say that tests should be conducted to make sure they are still functionally able to serve in the SCOTUS.

  20. 20 Jessica Joseph

    I think that the supreme court should have an age limit. When justices get to be in their 70′s and 80′s their mental health can be questioned. Also, a lot of older people are stuck in their ways. We need justices that will make progress instead of regressing back. You could say that some of the supreme court justices we have now are extremely conservative meaning they won’t budge on the issues they stand for. Having an age gap would make these supreme court justices retire. After a certain age, some of these people might be toxic to the judicial system…

  21. 21 demi

    It is not suprising at all that the red trend line goes up with time. Life expectancy has increased dramatically since the 1790s. People are living longer and justices are serving longer than before. Having manditory medical record releases may be considered an invasion of privacy, but it would help insure that the people who sit on our highest court are still able to do their jobs. There should not be a mandatory retirement age because many people are able to function very well long after the age of 70. However, justices need to realize that they are not indespensible, and that instead of helping the country by making wonderful and fair decisions they can harm it by making a decision with decreased mental awareness.

  22. 22 Mark Johnson

    i think when it comes to having term limits to the united states supreme court i think that the justices should not have term limits and be able to serve as long as they wish. normally those who are appointed and called to be a justice have been wanting to perform that job for a long time and they have worked hard to get to that point. so they should not have to give up a position that they have longed for because of the fact they are getting up there in age. if a justice is getting old they should have the right to choose if they want to continue to serve or not because sometimes age means nothing a person can be 90 years old and still be a genius. but if a justice is suffering from medical problems they should be made aware of the problems they will face if they continue but they should still be able to make their own decision.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Random Posts

  • A Deeper Look at Reversal Rates: An article in today's Cincinati Enquirer highlights the Sixth Circuit's current 15-case losing streak in the Supreme Court. Circuits regular...
  • Rate of 5-4 Majority Opinion Authorship: As a general matter, the Justices that tend to carry the greatest ideological authority on the Supreme Court should be the ones authoring th...
  • Profile: H. Bartow Farr, III: In the past, we've profiled notable advocates and judges that were in the news. This is the first in a series of posts about the advocates w...
  • New OT08 Term Stats : With 43 opinions released, the Court has now released just over half of the opinions it will release for the term. Lets take a look at some ...
  • Justice Ginsburg and the Future of the Court: One can only hope that Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) horded the tasteless Intrade contract for "Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Be Next Justice to Depar...