HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania's highest court Monday unanimously rejected a challenge to a constitutional provision that requires judges to retire by the end of the year in which they turn 70.
The state Supreme Court ruled on a pair of lawsuits filed by judges who argued that the mandatory-retirement provision, part of a 1968 amendment, conflicted with a much older section of the constitution that prohibits age discrimination.
Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas Saylor said, "theoretically at least there is some possibility that a constitutional amendment might impinge on inherent, inalienable rights otherwise recognized in the constitution itself."
"Nevertheless, we do not believe that the charter's framers regarded an immutable ability to continue in public service as a commissioned judge beyond seventy years of age as being within the scope of the inherent rights of mankind," he wrote.
The case had potential personal implications for several members of the court who are approaching their 70th birthdays, including Chief Justice Ronald Castille. He is seeking another 10-year term in a retention vote this year but will turn 70 in March, meaning that he would have to retire by the end of 2014.
Castille had no immediate comment on Monday's ruling, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Saylor said the retirement provision satisfies the standards of equal protection and due process. He suggested that judges seeking to change the constitution should pursue an amendment — a process that requires approval by the Legislature and the voters.
Robert Heim, the lawyer for three judges who filed one of the lawsuits, said he does not plan to appeal the ruling, but vowed to continue litigating a pending federal lawsuit that makes similar claims under the U.S. Constitution.
The challenges rejected Monday were the latest in a string of unsuccessful efforts to knock down the retirement requirement that dates back to the late '80s.
Other justices on the state's high court who are nearing retirement age include Saylor, J. Michael Eakin and Max Baer, who is also is seeking another term this year. All three men are in their mid-60s.
Once they reach the retirement deadline, Pennsylvania judges may still handle cases as senior judges who are on contract with the state court system.